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"Uncompetitive, politically moribund subsidy junkies"?

Betsan Powys | 11:46 UK time, Thursday, 28 April 2011


The view of the election campaign from just about every quarter - potential voters fed up that there've been no decisive moments that have helped them make up their mind, or change their mind, that there's been little movement in the opinion polls that might make them question whether they've made up their mind too soon.

Party workers roll their eyes and talk about knocking doors on sunny afternoons and finding whole estates that are like ghost towns. Everyone's out.

So: flat.

Is that just the way things have turned out? Or is that because frankly, for three of the four parties at least, flat is ok by them.

Take the Welsh Liberal Democrats. In national opinion polls, there's next to no good news for them. Labour have got their tactics right - they're out telling voters that this election is a chance to kick back against public spending cuts, aganst those weak-willed, opportunistic Lib Dems. Doesn't it suit Kirsty Williams and her team to hunker down in the constituencies where they can win and just get on with it?

If you were a Conservative strategist and David Cameron cornered you in North Wales today and asked you - again, no doubt - what the Tory vote is going to do on May 5th, what would you say? You'd say you fully expect it to hold up. Why wouldn't it? Why wouldn't Conservative voters turn out and vote in this election, especially given the added incentive of the chance to say a big, fat No to AV.

Labour? Yes, they've got it right in this campaign. They've been ahead in the polls for months. They worked out early that a pledge of "standing up for Wales" was hitting the right note and putting them even further ahead. They kept it simple, kept going as though saying you're "proud" of your record in government but would in future deliver something much better is ok - just as long as you say it often enough.

Isn't it, I've asked Carwyn Jones more than once over the past few weeks, astonishing to start making "delivery" a key priority after twelve years in government? It is but it lets him deal with all those questions about the many sticky bits of Labour's track record with one, simple answer and move on. Keep doing what you're doing and those polls don't move. Put a foot wrong and snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

That leaves Plaid Cymru - the one party that didn't need a flat campaign. They needed momentum. They needed to strike a tone that made the most of their status as a party of government in the last Assembly but one that was still fresh, ready to push on further, with better ideas than Labour, more ambition than Labour to deliver them.

Build 4 Wales was meant to put them on the right road. The notion of an arm's length company raising money to plug the massive hole in the capital budget may well survive in some form or other. It might even end up being nicked by another party if it turns out to be viable, a good one after all. Perhaps it was in the presentation but it didn't give them a flying start, the boost they'd hoped for.

Then Labour started goading and Plaid responded. They hit out at those bits of government where a Labour Minister had been in charge and their campaign took a wrong turn. People are more angry with parties other than Labour at the moment, a point made over on WalesHome.

So flat? Yes but as you bemoan it once again, think design perhaps, not just accident.

By the way, take a look at this:

"In truth, it should outrage us that this referendum is taking place at all. The £80 million estimated cost of putting it on would be a shocking waste of money at any point, let alone when austerity is the order of the day. Valuable time has been wasted on an incomprehensible feud between political anoraks".

Ring any bells?

Read on:

"Next Thursday's result will confirm that England at least has no appetite for constitutional navel-gazing. Perhaps it is made that way. Or perhaps it has seen what interminable debates about powers and processes have done to Scotland and Wales, which devolution has turned into uncompetitive, politically moribund subsidy junkies".

This is Cameron v Clegg, not Lewis v Banner - and well worth a read if life has been feeling a bit, well, flat recently.


  • Comment number 1.

    Flat? So that's why Cameron was pumping up the tyres in Westmister yesterday. Not that I thought that was the right place or the right style. In fact all it seemed to do was further inflame the 'English Democrats'. Not good if anyone is looking to get Barnett favourably revised.

  • Comment number 2.

    It's not quiet in Ynys Mon. Joe Lock (Labour) dissin' St. Margaret. Plaid supporters (?) ripping up Tory placards...anyone would think that there was some sort of election going on!

  • Comment number 3.

    Has anyone ever changed their mind as the result of an election campaign?

    Why don't all the parties just save the expense, and (with fixed election dates) dissolve the Assembly/Parliament on the Wednesday, have the vote on the Thursday, count on Friday and the new electees can turn up to take office the following Monday.

  • Comment number 4.

    Rubbish the voters are sick and tired of being lied to by the no to av side. No suprises its the tory scum once again doing the lying and its their buddies the BBC ignoring for the main, anything related to real facts.

  • Comment number 5.

    This comment has been referred for further consideration. Explain.

  • Comment number 6.

    Well done Betsan. Another clear analysis and you hit the nail on the head- you have asked Carwyn Jones many times why they think they can now manage education having failed it for 12 years. The excellent blog which gives you credit as well is here
    By comparison with the proposed change to the AV system, the Welsh Assembly is even more rigged than Westminster. Please can you try to explain to viewers how the Regional Lists work- or rather don't. "Politically moribund subsidy junkies" - superbly put.
    Just how long will it be before England wakes up and gets seriously angry at the idea that they give a huge wodge of cash to Wales and Scotland so that they can have free prescriptions and reduce or eliminate university student fees? Regional grants for regions to promote new or emerging technology business makes sense - giving money away without good reason such as subsidising Anglesey- Cardiff airfares and free prescriptions irrespective of ability to pay makes no sense at all

  • Comment number 7.

    6. At 20:08pm 28th Apr 2011, tombeek wrote:

    “Please can you try to explain to viewers how the Regional Lists work- or rather don't.”

    It’s quite straight forward actually, simple division. Primary school maths.

    The beauty of it is that it gives representation to those who though quite numerous are not represented by the antediluvian first past the post system.

    I am sure that you would not be in favour of a substantial minority of our population not being represented in the Assembly. Or would you?


    “ money away without good reason such as ...... free prescriptions irrespective of ability to pay makes no sense at all”

    What is the cost of free prescriptions versus the cost of charging the few people that had to pay previously minus the cost of collecting the charges for those few?

    I believe that Scotland proved that free prescriptions for everyone was a cost neutral exercise, do you know that it is different in Wales?

  • Comment number 8.

    Betsan, the BBC seems to be missing the elephant in the room here. You imply there is little difference between the parties and this is all simply about a change in management. There is a huge difference you are just not exposing or reporting it. The Welsh Labour Party is committed to public services, publicly funded and publicly delivered. Labour does not believe in markets or privatisation and demands that public servants collaborate, co operate not compete with one another. Integration and seamless services are the watch words not the fragmentation that goes hand in hand with competition. The Tories and Liberal Democrats fundamentally oppose this view, the one they hold is the same as their UK counterparts. They want to open up public services to a market free for all. 'Any willing provider' providing health services and other public services put out to tender. Why aren't you asking Nick Bourne whether he agrees with or opposes these policies being pursued by his counterparts in London? This is the real battle ground of this campaign.

  • Comment number 9.

    I humbly agree with Betsan that this election is like Norfolk,i.e FLAT.Other than BBC Wales trying to whip up interest,and interview conducted by Evan Davies on radio 4 it has not stirred my interest at all. In pure political matters the parties,with exception of UKIP,and PC's long term intention to seperate wales from UK,(pretty well hidden)what major differences are there??. They all seem to agree that the structural basis on provision of services is to remain the same,ie same old centralism of the Soviet Union,with the Praesidium at centre and off shoots that actually provide services,at not to a particularly high standard,especially education in old english only speaking working class areas. The welsh political "elite" now have the internal powers to make changes,however that will never be to augment the indicvidual to take more power/responsibility over them selves and local communities so we are left with the tired system that is failing us. At least in england there is some "oxygen" involved in the health/education services,whereas we are stuck in the drab old 1945,except if you are part of the favoured minority and if you want a new school for YOUR children and stuff the rest then we are on your SIDE!!!.

  • Comment number 10.

    Wales, through devolution, has been protected from the insanity that was PFI. That has made a difference. In England the NHS is burdened with additional charges due to the high cost of PFI repayments, likewise education (which accounts in part for that supposed difference in funding between Wales and England on education). Competition fragments services, reduces accountability and creates waste - again we have largely avoided that. The NHS has improved enormously since devolution and that is down to a wide consensus amongst the parties, other than the tories, on the direction and form the NHS should follow.
    Yes this election is flat, but given the lack of a decent Welsh media that is to be expected - the parties are out there, all of them, pushing leaflets and knocking on doors, but other than that were is the coverage in the press? In Cardiff we have the Metro, and apart from one or two items of arts coverage it has no Welsh related news, as far as its concerned we might as well be in Kent. The rest of the London based print media will cover a Welsh story (badly) once in a blue moon, so its no wonder that the election is flat. Kudos to BBC Wales and ITV Wales for trying to correct this deficit, but until the print media starts producing Welsh editions or we get a decent Welsh mass circulation paper then things Welsh will simply not get the cover it deserves.

  • Comment number 11.

    ... so it is all down to a press deficit in Wales.

    Might it not be down to a deficit of newsworthy story's, In the Times yesterday we had the Belarus dictator Lukashenko, that's how he was described in the leader, putting on trial opposition leaders, today the same newspaper reports the atrocities of Syrian political leaders, it kills the civilian population with impunity, whilst in Libya to wish for freedoms is to wish for cluster bombs.

    ... whilst in Wales our politicians offer what that might stimulate interest by the national press in the Assembly Elections ...

  • Comment number 12.

    10. The reason there is'nt a mass circulation paper is unfortunately the FACT that welsh people dont want one!!. Why would anybody really pay good money for the supposed NATIONAL paper when in reality its a rugby magazine and not a particularly good one at that. As far as BBC Wales ITV Wales are concerned its very third division,witha few notable exceptions like Felicity Evans. At the end of the day welsh news is pretty mundane unless your interested in a collection of cows having a parc in Carmarthen.

  • Comment number 13.

    So health, education, transport etc which are different here is not news?

  • Comment number 14.

    Plainly not enough to support a welsh mass circulation paper. The other fact that mitigates against a welsh mass circulation newspaper is that the constituent parts are not interested in the whole,except mutual antipathy. Basically the southern welsh know little about the north,and care less,and the north thinks we get all the GOODIES,and is more interested in Liverpool/Manchester areas as thats their main population base,inclusing major hospital locations and not Cardiff/Swansea as was seen when our "genius" of health administration wanted to transfer patients from north wales to Swansea,until allegedly the Prime Minister of UK put a stop to it due to North Wwales MP's common sense.

  • Comment number 15.

    #13 ...

    NHS Wales - Royal wedding ?

    Education Wales - Royal wedding photographs ?

    Transport in Wales - Syria / Libya / Egypt ?

    ... no contest is there, principality politics versus the real world.

  • Comment number 16.


    I am absolutely in favour of a more proportionate system but please read section 2 of the bloglink I quoted and here I quote a piece of text:

    As a Masters student I produced a miniature study on the electoral systems of Scotland and Wales, and concluded that the Welsh system was substantially less proportional, to the degree that at the last election Labour received eight more AMs than a proportional outcome. The chief benefit of this disproportionately is obviously the largest party, and this being Wales the largest party is always the Labour Party

    And as for prescriptions- the issue is how many people you exclude . There is a case for free receipt when only 10% pay which was ludicrous so you are perhaps correct in saying that a bad system was improved but the other way of improving it would be to make more people pay. I just cannot accept that people who can spend £5-£6 on a packet of cigarettes ( as an example only) cannot afford a contribution towards the cost of medicines. Why should pensioners automatically receive free bus passes? They could pay an annual fee. Why should a student who earns a law degree but lived with his parents in Wales pay less for his education than a student who lived on Merseyside ?
    Is this the UNITED Kingdom or the DIS- United Kingdom?
    Somebody has to pay for these "free" things and the more you give away for free the less you can spend on key services such as education.

  • Comment number 17.

    You are right that if you spend more on one thing you have less to spend on another, but that is the point of devolution local choices for local priority. Its done just about every where else in the world, why is it so surprising to do it in Wales. Yes charges for medicines were regressive, but if you charge for medicine why not charge for visits to doctors or stays in hospital? In actuality we pay for the health service through taxation, which is as it should be.

  • Comment number 18.

    17. WRONG. The current level of public services in total are not paid by taxation as a whole,but by "borrowing",the interest charges plus capital are in effect transfer costs to our children and grandchildren. Even within the taxes paid there is a whole swathe of welsh society that contributes not a penny,or effort to the common good,and are a permanent drain on resources. The issue should be that people who can afford to make a contribution should and those who cannot afford should NOT have to pay. What happens when the productive side of the economy,and effort of WORKERS of all stripes are not enough to meet the demands,as is bound to happen in western societies in coming years. Why should people out on the SSIP be able to go and get free health treatment when its their actions that have caused them to be in hospital in first place. I am sure Nye Bevan never thouight that such abuses would be paid by hard working people. It cannot continue indefinitely,like Bus Passes which I use occasionally and see bus full of virtually all ex public sector workers on good pensions,having excellent holidays,but dont pay for 10 minutes on a bus. Its called economic madness but it makes politicans popular so it must be OK.

  • Comment number 19.

    So you would dismatle the NHS as we know it, only provide treatment for the "deserving poor", end free education (if you can pay for it you should?) - maybe you are a fan of vouchers? Ban free bus passes - what would you leave? Lots of condemnation but very little policy there.

  • Comment number 20.

    Well Mr Thomas, why not have a "John Lewis NHS Partnership" for Wales, might it give the taxpayers value for money, after all, that is what most of the political hot air is about these days.

  • Comment number 21.

    18. The NHS is a wonderful idea,and in pure world would work FINE,however the sheer economic facts of life will eventually cause it to collapse.What on earth is the point of taxing people and then employ a whole army of people to shovel the money around and give it back to you in "services".The "better off" welsh are buying their way out of NHS anyway with the growth of private medicine,particularly in M4 corridor. I know of plenty of people who have had "private" operations,including serious one's carried out in NHS Hospitals to beat lengthy waiting lists. I personally agree with education "vouchers",to get parents to take more responsibility for childrens schooling,so whats wrong with that. This "socialist"paradise in wales is going to leave us poorer in time,as people dont have enough control over their lives. I though socialism was to redistribute money from well off to poorer people,but giving free bus passes/prescriptions to everyone is just economic madness.

  • Comment number 22.

    As far as I can see, the Labour message has been almost entirely a British political one. Labour did exactly the same in Scotland and have been crucified by the media but in Wales, they have got away with it.

    Plaid have effectively tried to expose Labour for this as the media appear to have no intention in doing so, then we get criticised for it. Labour have sold their rhetoric to Welsh media and they have swallowed it whole.

    When Labour in Wales have gone on and on and on about how they will stand up against those 'evil Tories' and avoided debate on new policy ideas, I would be interested to know just how many times Welsh journalists have pulled them up on it. In some ways, the Welsh media coverage of this election has been even worse than last year.


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