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Archives for May 2011

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Betsan Powys | 11:12 UK time, Monday, 23 May 2011

It was an inspired conversation.

What shall we call a blog written by someone called Betsan? How about ... Betsan's blog?

931 entries later, Betsan's blog is on the move.

From today, if the technology works, you'll be able to visit my new correspondent's page. As with other BBC blogs, it will have a fresh format and a more up-do-date photograph - one with more hair but with more frown lines too.

The reasons for the change can be found here. If all goes according to plan overnight, then you should be able to find the new page here.

See you there.

The police are investigating

Betsan Powys | 16:06 UK time, Thursday, 19 May 2011

South Wales Police have launched an investigation into Aled Roberts and John Dixon's election:

"Following a complaint received by South Wales Police and North Wales Police on Thursday 19th May relating to electoral fraud, South Wales Police will be leading an investigation by both forces following consultation with the Crown Prosecution Service.

"The investigation is in the early stages with enquiries ongoing."

As a result, the Clerk of the Assembly has halted her own inquiries pending the outcome of that police investigation.

The 'p' word that had seemed crucial to the future of the two Liberal Democrats was 'proper.' There was still a strong view that in the end, this would remain a 'political' decision. Now, there's another 'p' word involved - police - and the fact that they're pressing ahead with an investigation after consulting with the CPS has made an already serious situation for the Liberal Democrats considerably worse.

UPDATE 16.45

Those of you who are not members of the 'twitterati' might be interested to know that the twitter tide is turning against Mr Roberts and Mr Dixon.

Tory leadership candidate Nick Ramsay is one who has just voiced his agreement with former AM Jonathan Morgan: "The law is the law. For the sake of the Assembly and its standing, they should step aside".

The 'proper' way forward.

Betsan Powys | 10:21 UK time, Thursday, 19 May 2011

If the Liberal Democrats were hoping that a swift show of hands in the Assembly chamber yesterday could save their two disqualified AMs, then that hope soon evaporated and things are going rapidly downhill for them.

A word of warning: it's going downhilll because this is a pretty complex issue, so this is a cup-of-tea-and-sit-down sort of blog entry.

Read on.

The Liberal Democrat business manager, Peter Black, thought he had agreement from Labour on Tuesday night, hours after the controversy broke, to vote in favour of a motion under section 17(3) of the Government of Wales Act which entitles a majority vote in the Assembly to set aside a disqualification. The motion was duly tabled for Wednesday afternoon and a press statement put out by the Liberal Democrats saying the "technicality" would be overturned with "cross party support". John Dixon and Aled Roberts would be back in their offices in Cardiff Bay by nightfall.

But within the Labour group the mutterings had already begun. One Labour AM said later that evening it would take a "hard three line whip" for them to vote in favour of reinstatement.

Things began to unravel properly on Wednesday morning with a meeting of the Labour group ahead of the Assembly plenary session. At the same time, Mr Black, clearly sensing the ground shifting under his feet, went on the AMPM programme, changing tack and calling for a "period of contrition". I gather the Labour group was unanimous (a rarity, one veteran remarked wryly in passing) that no vote should be taken until the full legal implications of the situation had been explored.

The fundamental question for the Labour AMs, which still hasn't been resolved today is this.: were the two Lib Dems nominations valid? And if not, was their election on May 5th therefore invalid?

The former Assembly Counsel General Winston Roddick is unequivocal. They need to face up to the consequences of what is a null and void election. And because they are list members in North Wales and South Wales Central respectively, the second name on those lists should now be returned to the Assembly - a case of step forward Eluned Parrot and step back to the future Eleanor Burnham.

Others are not so sure.

One of the main factors complicating all this is that we're dealing with several different pieces of legislation which all relate to the election of AMs - not just one.

Under the Government of Wales Act 2006, AMs cannot be members of certain organisations and if they are, they are automatically disqualified. For John Dixon, it was the Care Council for Wales, for Aled Roberts, it was the Valuation Tribunal for Wales. Both failed to resign from these bodies before they were elected and therefore at the moment of their election, they were disqualified. It was, of course, some days before the breach came to light.

The rules makes sense in that they're there to preclude AMs from any potential conflict of interest should they be part of bodies that the Assembly and its committees may wish to scrutinise.

The two Liberal Democrats have fallen foul of section 16 (1) (a) of the Act - which refers to the Order in Council listing offices held which disqualify persons from being Assembly members. If this is breached, the Act says "the person's return is void and the person's seat is vacant".

That is why there are currently only 58 Assembly members and that is why Labour, with their 30 members, now have a majority.

However, the Act provides a get out clause. Section 17 (3) says the Assembly may resolve that the disqualification of any person under section 16 is to be disregarded if it appears to the Assembly -

(a) that the ground has been removed, and
(b) that it is proper so to resolve

This is what the Liberal Democrats were trying to rush through yesterday afternoon. However, that word "proper" clearly rankles with many, particularly on the Labour benches. More than one Labour figure has asked me the question in the past 24 hours - "How would we look if one of the the first actions of the Assembly as a full legislative body was to vote to overturn and disregard clear electoral irregularities on the part of two of our members?"

A former AM, one who held his seat very dearly and was hit hard when he lost it, Emailed last night making the same point. Ok, he said, it's not exactly the main topic of conversation down the pub but:

"Is it 'proper' to change the law simply because a couple of aspiring AMs didn't know the law regarding eligibility? ... The new - and greatly empowered - Assembly wouldn't exactly cover itself with glory if one of its first legislative acts was to set aside the disqualification of two of its members. Not the sort of thing a Parliament should be doing".

However, while the Act sets out in what circumstances AMs may be disqualified, it isn't clear on the central issue of the validity of their election in the first place. That is covered by the National Assembly for Wales (Representation of the People) Order 2007.

Under section 34 (4) of that Order

A person is guilty of a corrupt practice if, in the case of a party list candidate at a regional
election, he makes in any document in which he gives his consent to nomination as a candidate -

(a) a statement of his date of birth;

(b) a statement as to his qualification for membership of the Assembly

... which he knows to be false in any particular [* A reader of the blog, who also happens to know orders such as this one like the back of his hand, points out that I'd omitted to include these vital words that appear later in the same paragraph. The point made, clearly, is that Aled Roberts and John Dixon would be guilty of an offence if they knew that what they were claiming was false - and only then. Simply being careless in making a false statement doesn't amount to an offence. You must know it to be false. Thank you to him and his eagle eye].

The claims are that both Mr Dixon and Mr Roberts signed their consents to nomination asserting they were qualified for membership of the Assembly, when their membership of other organisations meant they weren't and are therefore guilty of corrupt practice.

But the order goes on to prescribe the penalty for this in section 120 - Prosecutions for corrupt practices.

(1) A person who is guilty of a corrupt practice shall be liable-

(a) on conviction on indictment-

(i) in the case of a corrupt practice under article 14(11) or 30, to imprisonment for a
term not exceeding two years, or to a fine, or to both;

(ii) in any other case, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year, or to a fine, or to both; or

(b) on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months, or to a fine
not exceeding the statutory maximum, or to both.

It is on these grounds that UKIP have referred the two Lib Dems to the police.

But what is missing here is any statement that these "corrupt practices" lead to the invalidation of the individual's election. Fines and even imprisonment, yes but it says nothing about an "illegal election" as UKIP have claimed it is.

The nomination papers as they were signed before the election would have appeared valid and been accepted by the electoral authorities as such - however, the electoral offences, according to this Order, would seem to have been committed the moment the two actually "became" AMs, rather than beforehand, so it could be argued they were elected legitimately, and disqualified subsequently.

As I say, others will disagree.

So it would seem that the fate of the two as Assembly members remains with the Assembly as a whole and whether that motion under 17.(3) is passed.

Speaking to AMs and parties yesterday, the most emollient towards the Lib Dems appeared to be Plaid Cymru. However, in a statement today, they too are now taking a harder line: "the rules that exist are in place for a reason and simply ignoring any breaches of those rules could set a damaging precedent, the impact of these breaches needs to be fully considered."

What happens now? The Clerk will be mpw "undertaking actions on behalf of the Presiding Officer". In other words, she will investigate what is, indeed, the 'proper' way forward.

Choosing your words carefully

Betsan Powys | 12:01 UK time, Wednesday, 18 May 2011

It was Mrs Stafford Williams, my English teacher in Ysgol Tryfan, who taught me never to mis-use the word 'literally'. She'd peer at me quizzically, read back the offending sentence, emphasise the word 'literally' and turn "Really?" into a three-syllabled slap on the wrist. Thank you Mrs Williams.

The Liberal Democrats might be wishing they had thought twice before using the word "technically" quite so swiftly yesterday. Their two new AMs who'd been "technically disqualified" for being members of organisations that, by law, AMs cannot be members of would be back in the fold by the end of today, they said. Aled Roberts and John Dixon had resigned from the Valuation Tribual for Wales and the Care Council for Wales.

A Lib Dem spokesperson said: "This issue will be resolved with a resolution of the assembly, which is likely to be passed with cross-party support."

The Plaid Cymru group sounds pretty forgiving. It was a genuine mistake seems to be the Plaid line. There's little appetite, apparently, to make a big deal of this.

But the Labour group? It's members are taking it much more seriously. They met this morning and argue it's not just a rule breach. Aled Roberts and John Dixon have broken the law after all and so Labour sources are suggesting their members would expect both members to face considerable suspensions if they were reinstated as AMs. Note that "if".

The Conservatives are still 'considering their position'.

This is a small building and you might not be surprised to hear that one of my colleagues has just seen Kirsty Williams heading up to the fifith floor to talk to the Labour leader Carwyn Jones - just one item on the agenda. Her colleague, Peter Black, has certainly just been telling AMPM viewers that this has been "embarrassing" and there will have to be "a period of contrition" before the matter is sorted out. No "technical" revolving door after all then.

He's right. It appears that the motion to reinstate the two Liberal Democrat members this afternoon has just been withdrawn.

Do you know what, Mrs Williams? There are days when the Cardiff Bay bubble feels as though it just might burst over something that to voters up and down the country must appear baffling and frankly, rather divorced from real life.

But the law - quite literally - is the law. That's now dawning on Mr Roberts and Mr Dixon.

Two horse race

Betsan Powys | 11:29 UK time, Monday, 16 May 2011

A colleague has just typed "Tory group" into a search engine.

The response came back: "The submitted search criteria was too complex for the system to handle in a timely manner."

Given the briefings emanating from the Assembly group over the past week or so - let alone the weekend's texting, horse-trading, tweeting and in one instance, self-imposed phone purdah - I'm not sure that search engine is so far off the mark.

What is the upshot of all the activity?

That the race for the leadership of the Conservative group in the Assembly will be a two horse race - between Monmouth's Nick Ramsay and South Wales Central's Andrew RT Davies. Nominations don't close until 5 o'clock and their names won't be known officially until Wednesday but that is where this race seems to be headed.

What of the other names that were doing the rounds as possible contenders?

Clwyd West's Darren Millar - the man who, along with Jonathan Morgan, seemed to share the title leader-in-waiting - won't be standing but is expected by colleagues to nominate Andrew RT Davies.

Angela Burns, who scored a heck of a victory in Carmathen West and South Pembrokeshire, won't be going for it either. She won't be nominating anyone but will decide who gets her vote after watching both contenders perform in hustings up and down the country.

Things to consider:

After Andrew RT Davies resigned from the shadow cabinet, he used his time to work "the rubber chicken circuit" as it's sometimes unkindly known, very hard indeed. He made himself known to local associations, offered his help to election candidates and produced a "this is me" video that was more polished than some official party political broadcasts.

When the race breaks out of the confines of the Assembly group and goes to local party members, bear in mind that Nick Ramsay will get the Monmouth Tory vote. That's a lot of crosses on a lot of leadership race ballot papers. Where are the largest associations? Cardiff North? Vale of Glamorgan? Where else and where will those votes go?

Some strong words have been shared with commentators about both men and the sort of leaders their colleagues believe they would make. One or two were starting to calculate that should the blunt and straight-talking Mr Davies win, there was a chance he would "crash and burn", leaving the job open and to be decided, mid-term, solely by members of the Assembly group. It's the sort of talk that has died down very quickly now that two names have become two serious leadership candidates.

No-one, Assembly member, party member or party watcher, seems to discuss this leadership race without sharing the view that the Welsh Conservatives are "on a real cusp" as one AM put it. The question is whether that's a case of sounding a warning, or spotting what could be an opportunity.

UPDATE Tuesday pm

A Labour source questions whether Nick Ramsay can indeed rely on the Monmouth vote. Fair point. Yes, the local candidate will no doubt pick up a lot of support from those pleased that 'their boy' has a stab at leading the Assembly group and who'd feel they had, perhaps, a bit more of a stake in an Assembly they're still learning to live with. But that's not an automatic, in the bag, vote.

In London today, I happen to bump into a Welsh Conservative who is of the same view. An awful lot of members will want to listen to both candidates' pitches before they make up their minds, he says. It won't be an automatic cross in the box for their man.

Most interesting though? His take on the leadership race itself. He made three points:

1. "I bet you're all bowled over by the quality of the field ..."
2. It's a great shame that Jonathan Morgan is no longer in the Assembly and "Alun Cairns must be kicking himself ... £90,000 odd as leader of the opposition ..."
3. Bear one thing in mind: whoever wins will only be the leader of the Assembly group and not the leader of the Welsh Conservatives.

I reckon it was the third point that was made most forcefully of all.

Two down ...

Betsan Powys | 14:00 UK time, Friday, 13 May 2011

For Nick Bourne, there was no choice. The blunt realities of the electoral system meant his years as party leader were at an end.

In essence, after a bad election, there was little choice for Ieuan Wyn Jones either. He is to give up the Plaid Cymru leadership, though not quite yet. Mr Jones plans to stay on while the party - the party he took from 82 years of opposition to government and back, for now at least, to opposition - has time to work out what went wrong on May 5th and what must change in terms of structure and strategy before it moves on.

In fact he gives it quite some time. He will go "some time in the first half of the Assembly term". That is two years and counting - quite some leeway and far too much for some, I suspect, though it is, I'm told, certainly "not a target".

He's on his feet now, in Anglesey, reading out a statement that, I'm told, will spell out his thinking.

It is absolutely no secret that Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas is one Plaid member who wants to see the party conduct a short, sharp review, elect a new leader and stike a deal that lets Plaid march back into government with Labour, all as soon as possible. Simon Thomas, brand new AM but old Plaid hand, is the leader of choice, or so it's whispered in Cardiff Bay. You never know, he might fancy it himself - "a last hurrah!" - suggests one Plaid source.

Others shake their heads and warn against a swift move back to the fifth floor. There would have to be "major sweeteners" said one, before Plaid should even contemplate any kind of deal. It must work out what it's about and until it knows exactly where it wants to go, then forget any deals along the way. Those voices say that the former Presiding Officer is "isolated" - but admit that he's a man who rarely, if ever, fails to build the bridges necessary to get to precisely where he wants.

Plaid will have heard Carwyn Jones dismiss the Liberal Democrats as "too toxic" and beyond the pale as far as any kind of deal goes. Truly "inedible" as Rhodri Morgan once put it. But Plaid? The First Minister talked of calling "Ieuan." He wouldn't elaborate but certainly didn't rule out a future deal. The difference in tone pointed to one door firmly shut and another - the only other one available to a man who doesn't want to lead a minority government for five years - more than ajar.

I know that many in the party have asked Mr Jones to stay on, to see them through this next phase. They - and no doubt many of us - suspect that no matter how Plaid had fared on May 5th, he was planning to give up the leadership during this term.

The question now is how long his party lets him stay.

Team "Delivery"

Betsan Powys | 11:12 UK time, Friday, 13 May 2011

What IS 'deliver' in Welsh? Carwyn Jones asked the other day, mid interview, conscious that he always uses the word in English no matter in which language he's being interviewed.

Cyflawni? Cyflawni dros Gymru? The First Minister looked unconvinced and stuck with "deliver," or as per the much derided tradition of adopting English words into Welsh, added an 'o' to create "deliver-o."

The cabinet, or the new team that Mr Jones says will "deliver for Wales" - in any language - has just been announced. Incidentally it will deliver on behalf of "the Welsh Government." Spot the omission? Can we finally bury the confusing Welsh Assembly Government, WAG, title forever? It looks like it.

Leg-ups for some former rebels who've proved they can behave and rewards for loyalty too. A Deputy in charge of agriculture, as you'll spot. Just wait for those "Labour snubs rural Wales" press releases. Transport doesn't get a mention. Where does it fit in?

Leighton Andrews is going nowhere until he is happy that his job is done in education.

Edwina Hart will in future be in charge of "Business, Enterprise and Technology". I won't finish the message, just sent, by someone who knows very well what it is like to work with the formidable former Health Minister, but it starts like this: "Edwina taking on business will be like ..." Let's just say that he's looking forward to seeing how that one pans out.

Here's the list in full:

Rt Hon Carwyn Jones AC/AM
Prif Weinidog Cymru/First Minister of Wales
Delivery Unit, Energy, Wales for Africa, Intergovernmental relations, Wales in the World, European Union, Civil Service Reform

Edwina Hart AC/AM OStJ MBE
Minister for Business, Enterprise and Technology
Y Gweinidog Busnes, Menter a Thechnoleg

Lesley Griffiths AC/AM
Minister for Health and Social Services
Y Gweinidog Iechyd a Gwasanaethau Cymdeithasol

Jane Hutt AC/AM
Minister for Finance and Leader of the House
Y Gweinidog Cyllid ac Arweinydd y Tŷ

John Griffiths AC/AM
Minister for Environment and Sustainable Development
Gweinidog yr Amgylchedd a Datblygu Cynaliadwy

Leighton Andrews AC/AM
Minister for Education and Skills
Y Gweinidog Addysg a Sgiliau

Carl Sargeant AC/AM
Minister for Local Government and Communities
Y Gweinidog Llywodraeth Leol a Chymunedau

Huw Lewis AC/AM
Minister for Housing, Regeneration and Heritage
Y Gweinidog Tai, Adfywio a Threftadaeth

Deputy Ministers

Gwenda Thomas AC/AM
Deputy Minister for Children and Social Services
Y Dirprwy Weinidog Plant a Gwasanaethau Cymdeithasol

Jeff Cuthbert AC/AM
Deputy Minister for Skills
Y Dirprwy Weinidog Sgiliau

Alun Davies AC/AM
Deputy Minister for Agriculture, Food, Fisheries and European Programmes
Y Dirprwy Weinidog Amaethyddiaeth, Bwyd, Pysgodfeydd a Rhaglenni Ewropeaidd


UPDATE 1400

"Farming lessons forgotten" is the title of the press release from the Tories and "rural Wales will be failed by Carwyn Jones' new cabinet" from Plaid Cymru - but 'Labour snubs rural Wales' wasn't a bad stab at it ...

Plaid MP Jonathan Edwards has gone on the attack too - not over the lack of an appointment - but over the reappointment of Jane Hutt.

Hill Kill Bill?

Betsan Powys | 09:26 UK time, Wednesday, 11 May 2011

It's not often that Quentin Tarantino is evoked in the hushed, brushed wood environs of the Senedd. In fact, I think it's a personal first - and it was all about who fills the shoes of the outgoing Presiding Officer and his deputy. In other words, as Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas exits stage left, who fills his shoes and that of his deputy.

In Quentin's list of characters, Presiding Officer = Speaker of the Assembly.

We know for sure that the former deputy, Labour's Rosemary Butler, becomes the boss in the next Assembly. Then last night came a message. The rumours that the Conservative, David Melding will, after all, be standing as Deputy Presiding Officer are absolutely true, it said but it's not true that the campaign to get him elected is called 'Kill Bill.'

That last bit was a joke, in case you start to worry that things have taken a particularly nasty turn down in Cardiff Bay. The joke was at the expense of William Graham, also a Conservative member. He'd already made it clear he'd like to be considered as DPO and yesterday afternoon, most of us thought he might well be elected.

But if Mr Melding does indeed throw his hat into the ring, all that could well change. I don't know what Quentin T would make of David Melding but he's a politician who has a very big brain, a strategic - and open - mind, he does heavy-duty influence with a very light touch and has probably the biggest cross-party fanbase in Cardiff Bay.

The question then: will William Graham stand and fight, or not? He may be the politest man in Cardiff Bay but he's no push over.

What we know for sure is that Dafydd Elis-Thomas leaves the big chair - a man who knew exactly when to kick over the traces (as we say in Welsh and I hope, in English) and exactly when to soothe and schmooze and who did both with some vigour. But while he now returns fully to join his colleagues in the Plaid Cymru group (with equal vigour, I'm sure) I gather he won't be joining the Plaid Cymru benches in the chamber.

There's one too many Plaid AM to fit into the space next to the Liberal Democrats apparently and so Lord Elis-Thomas - I'm told - will have to cross the gangway and sit with the Labour group. Given his undisguised talking-up of a deal between Plaid and Labour "sooner than all of you think" on Radio Cymru this morning, I'm sure he'll find it a very handy place to be.

"You wouldn't bet against some sort of deal between Labour and Plaid in the future" is, from memory, what I said on the Ten o'clock news last night. So how soon is "sooner than all of you think" I wonder?

How's this for a plan? A decision in the Plaid ranks not to go in for long drawn out introspection, a short, sharp inquiry into what went wrong for them in the election and how to set about sorting out structures and strategies, a new, young, leader in place by the Autumn and another four year deal struck with Labour next year?

I'll let you have a stab at the rest of the script.

UPDATE

Well, the script on the DPO job is getting more interesting by the minute.

William Graham has just issued a furious press release attacking political commentator and public affairs consultant Daran Hill for what he calls "unwelcome and unprecedented interference" in this afternoon's vote.

In a statement, Mr Graham said, "A well-known political commentator is trying to influence the vote for the Deputy Presiding Officer.

"This outside interference is unprecedented and unwelcome in a Members secret and un-whipped ballot."

The response from Mr Hill? "Like others who work with Assembly Members, I've not hidden my support for David Melding. It's hard not to be impressed by him. He will win this contest on merit. Though I should probably stop retweeting other people soon and get on with some work."

If the Presiding Officer and First Minister votes are likely to be foregone conclusions this afternoon - the deputy Presiding Officer one is anything but, by the looks of things.

UPDATE 1600

David Melding - 46
William Graham - 12

Team Butler-Melding it is.

First Minister second time around

Betsan Powys | 15:14 UK time, Tuesday, 10 May 2011

"Various discussions have taken place in recent days both inside our own party and with others too. As a result of these discussions, I will seek to form a Government later this week, consisting solely of Labour Ministers.

However, in doing this, I want to make something absolutely clear. We will do this without any triumphalism and with no trace of any political tribalism.

The stakes for Wales are too high for any such self-indulgence.

We will take the next step - to form a stable Government for our people - with humility and total recognition of the responsibility now facing us".

Change afoot?

Betsan Powys | 11:23 UK time, Tuesday, 10 May 2011

The Presiding Officer for the past three Assemblies has been spotted carrying a few personal belongings from the fourth floor.

Does Dafydd Elis-Thomas know something for sure that we don't yet?

The speculation, as reported yesterday, is that the Conservatives would nominate Angela Burns as Presiding Officer for this fourth term. They are the official opposition, they had a good election, they feel the job should be theirs.

But who takes over as DPO - another opposition politician, giving Labour a two seat majority? Nice try but you must be joking seems to be the response from Plaid and the Lib Dems.

Would the Conservatives agree to fill both jobs (in what Plaid are already calling a Labour-Tory deal?)

This morning Paul Davies, the intermin Tory leader, chose his words carefully: "My own personal view is that I don't think the PO and DPO should come from the same political party. However I think we've got to see how things develop ... Nothing is inconceivable".

But he added: "We don't want to give the Labour party a majority because it was us that deprived them of a majority in the first place".

If there's no deal then, what will Labour do? We assume it'll be back to plan A - nominate Labour's Rosemary Butler as Presiding Officer and go for it. William Graham is the favourite to brush of his button-hole flower and be nominated as DPO.

Off to see Carwyn Jones, standing - alone - in the Senedd.

**UPDATE**

He's going it alone.

Flanked by the other 29 Labour AMs, Carwyn Jones sounded confident but conciliatory.

He will form a government consisting solely of Labour ministers but "will do this without any triumphalism and with no trace of any political tribalism.

"We will take the next step - to form a stable Government for our people - with humility and total recognition of the responsibility now facing us."

Did he have the appearance of a man forming an interim government before doing a deal in a few weeks time? Hard to tell. His initial strategy would seem to be to appeal to the other parties better natures.

"Over the recent election campaign, one message that voters sent all political parties in Wales - loud and clear was that the old style of politics, opposition for opposition's sake, sits uncomfortably in our modern Welsh democracy."

But then came the indication that a deal could perhaps materialise in the future.

"Over the coming weeks and months, I will have ongoing discussions with the other parties about what shape this role will take, but some time and space must be afforded to the opposition parties for them to consider what this election has said to them, and how they wish to interpret that message.

"I won't be giving a running commentary on that process of discussion with the other parties - and time to get it right in the interests of building a better Wales is more important than setting artificial deadlines."

That mention of deadlines does sound as if he make seek something more formal than working with individual parties on individual policy areas on an ad hoc basis. We shall see.

Whatever discussions there were about creating an artificial majority via the Presiding Officer / Deputy Presiding Officer have clearly come to naught. Those discussions, we're told, came from the Conservatives, who were very keen to put Angela Burns' name forward as PO and who tried to persuade Plaid or the Lib Dems to nominate a deputy. It didn't work. A Tory scheme, say Labour. Nowt to do with us.

All of which now leaves Angela Burns free to run for the party leadership of course, which officially kicks off tomorrow when nomination papers are sent out.

Labour will nominate Rosemary Butler as PO, who is highly likely to be elected, most probably with Tory William Graham as her deputy.

Tomos Livingstone wins the prize for best DPO joke in show: well, it'll be a change for William Graham ... finding himself working for a Butler!

Necessity v convenience

Betsan Powys | 11:23 UK time, Monday, 9 May 2011

If you were still up for Llanelli ... Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire ... Cardiff North ... Central and Aberconwy, then I hope you had some sleep.

Some pretty bleary-eyed new members on the block have been arriving in the Senedd this morning, trundling suitcases, smiling for ID photos and realising they don't have the parking spaces they thought they'd have.

This afternoon both the Conservative and Plaid Cymru groups will be meeting in Ty Hywel to focus on the task ahead.

Ieuan Wyn Jones might have noticed that there are, quite literally, storm clouds gathering over the Bay this afternoon. For what it's worth he looks pretty unhappy. He knows the group meeting will be a tough one, though I'd surprised if there hadn't been many voices quietly persuading him to stay as leader while the party undertakes a root and branch review - not just of the campaign - but of its future direction and organisation.

The first public set piece will be on Wednesday when we're expecting to see the election of a Presiding Officer and Deputy PO and when, of course, Carwyn Jones will be elected First Minister.

The rumour mill is busy with regard to the first posts. The names of Labour's Rosemary Butler, the former DPO and the Conservative William Graham are being mentioned by some as a possible team. That's not going down too well though with some in the Labour group. One or two within the Labour group, though, are suggesting they'd be less than keen on that and would rather Dafydd Elis-Thomas was asked to carry on for another term (despite the fact that the PO's job, as Leighton Andrews put it this morning, is "not a hereditary position." Ouch.)

Another intriguing suggestion puts Lord Elis-Thomas as PO and another opposition politician as his deputy. Why intriguing? Because it gives Labour their majority, a majority of two and that's a deal more comfortable than one; a great deal more comfortable than none.

Then again, what about the Conservative Angela Burns as PO? With David Melding having ruled himself out, her name is coming through loud and clear this afternoon.

Would the opposition parties agree to giving Labur that majority? Let's see.

In the meantime, there are more and more Labour voices talking about an obligation to go it alone, to form a government and to avoid "the trouble with coalition" as Pontypridd's new AM, Mick Antoniw put it, which is to make things "too cosy" and militates against proper scrutiny. "It has to be a necessity to stable government and not a convenience" he said in one answer, while in the next warned that the Lib Dems are "seen as toxic" and that Labour wouldn't be forgiven for striking a deal with them now.

In other words it looks increasingly likely that Labour will go it alone, avoid formal pacts and strike deals if and when they're needed to get specific bits of legislation or business through.

If you were listening to the phone-in on Radio Wales this lunchtime, you'll know that there'll be plenty in the party - and beyond - who'll be saying good on them.

I had started on a blog entry listing five reasons for and against a deal between Labour and Plaid, five reasons for and against a deal between Labour and the Liberal Democrats and five reasons for and against Labour going it alone. When it's done, I'll post it .. and wonder whether anything beyond the last paragraph will be of any interest whatsoever to readers of this blog amongst the Labour group.

14.40

Labour have just issued a statement:

"The people of Wales have made it very clear that they want a Labour-led Government and they want Carwyn Jones to be the next First Minister. This is accepted by the other political parties in the Assembly.

"Informal discussions have been taking place today and over the weekend both inside Welsh Labour and with the other political parties. The new Labour Group will meet tomorrow to discuss options and agree the right way forward for Wales. Following that meeting, Carwyn Jones will make a statement to ensure Wales has a stable Government in place as soon as possible."

15.30

Ieuan Wyn Jones on leaving the group meeting:

"What we need to do is take our time. None of us profit from taking instant decisions. What we have got to do is reflect well on it and to really understand in the fullness of time what went wrong and what went right ... the party does need time to reflect not just on its positioning and message but on its strategy".

16.10

A statement from the Lib Dems:

"Labour have failed to win the overall majority many expected, or the 'comfortable majority' that Carwyn Jones talked about at the beginning of the campaign. However, they are the largest party and with half the seats in the Assembly, Carwyn Jones can form an administration and we expect him to do so.

"The priority of the Welsh Liberal Democrats now will be to work to implement the policies that we have fought this election on - creating jobs and boosting our economy, more money for schools, cutting waiting times by cutting waste and better politics that puts local people in charge. Those will be our priorities in this Assembly and Kirsty Williams and the new team will use every opportunity to promote that agenda, whatever the circumstances.

"The Welsh Liberal Democrats have taken no part in any discussions with the Labour Party since the election or over the weekend, informal or otherwise."


Come again?

Betsan Powys | 23:19 UK time, Saturday, 7 May 2011

It took a while to track it down but here is what Tavish Scott - the now former leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats - said to my colleague Brian Taylor in an interview earlier today about the party's meltdown in Scotland:

"Different things happen to different parts of the UK. We are now in government in Wales, so congratulations to Kirsty Williams for leading us into that with Labour in Wales".

Would anyone like to elaborate?

23.40

Yes, the Welsh Liberal Democrats would: "Tavish Scott was mistaken".

Holding the reins

Betsan Powys | 13:33 UK time, Saturday, 7 May 2011

The leader is gone. Long live the interim leader.

The new Conservative group of Assembly Members met with the party management board this morning to start the process of finding a new leader - one that starts with finding someone to hold the fort in the meantime.

The only candidate for that job, I gather, was Preseli Pembrokeshire AM Paul Davies. There were no dissenting voices. His job will be to bring a bit of stability to a group that finds itself in good shape - the official opposition - boosted in number but minus a boss. The race to succeed Nick Bourne will kick off on May 11th and end on July 14th.

Now for the bit that will make one group member in particular sit up. I'm told that Paul Davies' candidacy for the interim leadership was "the product of progressive forces within the Welsh Conservatives working together".

A sign of things to come, of the direction those forces want things to go, said the same voice. I'm sure Andrew R T Davies will be listening, girding his loins and preparing for a right old fight.

Intriguingly, however many candidates throw their hats into the ring, only two will be put in front of the party membership for their approval.

Should there be more than two nominations, the Tory group in the Assembly will meet on May 25th to whittle the contenders down to the final pair. So no repeat of the three way battle as we saw between Carwyn Jones, Edwina Hart and Huw Lewis back in 2009.

Labour...led?

Betsan Powys | 14:47 UK time, Friday, 6 May 2011


There may already be an embryonic deal between Labour and either the Liberal Democrats or Plaid Cymru to form a coalition Assembly government.

Three of the most senior figures in Welsh Labour, leader Carwyn Jones, campaign director Leighton Andrews, and MP Owen Smith, in discussing the party's next move this lunchtime, have referred to their desire to have a Labour First Minister and a "Labour-led" government in place by next week.

This is very intriguing phraseology, as in theory there's no need to add the "led" on to a Labour government.

Mr Jones could easily form a Labour-only administration if the vote in the Assembly goes his way, as it almost certainly will, even without the 31 seats of an outright majority.

It is a strong indication that the party has already decided that it doesn't want to "go it alone" on 30 seats and will seek an alliance with another party.

Mr Andrews refused to elaborate on why he and the other party figures had used the phrase "Labour-led" saying only that it "is the phrase that the party is using today" and "you couldn't get a cigarette paper" between him and Mr Jones on it.

The former Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Mike German said he believed the use of the phrase "Labour-led" indicated to him that there was already forethought from Labour about a coalition deal, and it was his belief that talks could start as early as this weekend.

Asked what her position was on a deal with Labour, and whether contact had taken place, the Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Kirsty Williams said, "The ball is certainly in the Labour party's court - they've only been able to get the 30 seats, it must be very disappointing for them.

"As I said at the beginning of this election, our approach, after the people of Wales have spoken, would be to create a stable government here in Wales and to use our influence to push forward the elements of our manifesto that we've campaigned on."

One of the key figures in Labour's election campaign, the Pontypridd MP Owen Smith, asked whether Mr Jones would opt for a coalition deal, said, "I think he's said very clearly that there is a strong mandate that's been sent by the people of Wales that they want a Labour-led government, that they want Carwyn Jones as First Minister.

"I think the ball is in our court now, to think about how we want to take that forward, what we want to do with that mandate.

"I think he's said very clearly that he wants to be open, and to reach out to other parties, and think imaginatively about how we might work with other parties, but precisely what form that will take, precisely how we'll take that forward, I think you'll have to wait and see what we determine in the coming days."

Were you still up for ..?

Betsan Powys | 21:53 UK time, Thursday, 5 May 2011

I'll let you fill in the blanks as the night goes on.

I'm going to be talking, listening, then talking some more for the next 24 hours - but if you want to join in the conversation tonight and into the early hours, then please do head here.

See you on the other side.

So that's that.

Betsan Powys | 15:37 UK time, Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Here we are. The campaign is drawing to its close - one that's seen some heat, more heat than light perhaps.

My colleague David Cornock in his Reality Check feature for Wales Today drew attention to the fact that for all the talk of cuts in the coming years, the party manifestos are remarkably silent on where those cuts are actually going to fall.

Grist to the mill, maybe, for those who say that Wales isn't necessarily going to feel the level of swingeing cuts warned of in recent months.

But for people waiting for a relief road, or a new school, or an upgrade to a hospital building, watch out for some disappointing announcements from the government of whatever colour is formed after May and don't look back too closely at the manifestos.

Are we any closer, after a month of hard campaigning, to knowing what colour that government might be? The answer to that is probably no.

The received wisdom on whether Labour will make it to a majority? In short - no wise people are prepared to make a firm prediction.

Labour's campaign director Leighton Andrews' warning over the weekend about complacency wasn't simply a case of public positioning - it reflects the view within the party. The feeling is that they have done what they can to get where they want to go but from here on in, it's in the lap of the gods. A few thousand, or even hundred, votes in a few constituencies will make the difference between triumph and bitter disappointment. Perhaps even the weather.

If they don't make it, despite their poll leads, expect to hear much about incumbency as a factor (and even the current voting system that was, let's venture to mention, Labour's idea in the first place). The three other parties are well dug in in the seats then need to keep to deny Labour a majority. Some incumbents are reasonably sanguine about bucking the polls, others won't sleep between now and Friday - things are that close.

Should the result, when we finally get it, prove inconclusive, the mood music I'm hearing more and more in recent days is that there may be a collective pause for breath. The parties may well want to take stock of where they are before they launch into talks.

For Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats, the feeling is there's nothing to be gained by appearing to be too keen. If the Liberal Democrats do as badly as the polls suggest, and their number of seats slips from six to four, or even fewer, then the party membership will also want to take some time to reflect. There is far from a settled will within Plaid, too, about what the party should do after Thursday.

Voices in Labour are musing as to whether it may be better to sit tight for a while if they don't reach the 31. This could even be to the extent of forming a minority government for a period - a few weeks, even a few months, rather than rushing into a coalition, or some other agreement. "Let's let the other parties sort themselves out first, then see what we're dealing with" was the view from one well placed source who specialises in "just thought I'd mention it" kind of thoughts.

One very obvious pitfall of this strategy, which the party strategists will have noted, is the possibility that an interregnum could give their opponents the chance to organise an alternative administration, again, depending on how the cards fall.

Quickest off the blocks in any coalition race may well be the Conservatives. There is only one option open to them, of course and that's the fabled rainbow (or "losers coalition" as Labour have been instructed to call it). It will suit them to lay out what they can offer to the other parties early. Remember Cameron's "big open and comprehensive offer" to the Liberal Democrats after the 2010 General Election. The electoral mathematics may be very different in this case but the prize is potentially the same.

Nick Bourne's biggest problem, paradoxically, will be a successful night for his party. If he comes back with more AMs than Plaid Cymru, then Ieuan Wyn Jones has ruled out being part of a Tory led government. This means he'll need to come up with something - and I for one can't work out what it might be at this stage - if his dream of forming part of an Assembly Government is to be realised.

Last time round it took 12 weeks to form a government. Who knows how long it will take this time but as you cast your votes, spare a thought for the Belgians. 320+ days without a government - and counting.

Join us on TV and radio on Thursday night and into Friday as the story in Wales unfolds.

In the balance

Betsan Powys | 16:58 UK time, Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Story spotting is gradually turning into swotting.

Who's that candidate on the regional list who just might find they've nabbed that fourth spot and a seat in the Senedd chamber? What if the Tories win Montgomeryshire but lose Carmarthen West - does Nick Bourne hold onto his seat on the list, or not?

It's about maths, it's about a few hundred votes in this community, in that seat and in the end, thankfully, it's about democracy.

If you saw the leaders debating last night you'll know that the Labour leader stood accused once again of "arrogance" and his party of "taking Wales for granted". Carwyn Jones, in turn, asked what on earth was wrong with wanting to win. It's up to the people of Wales whether Labour win or not, he said. "That's democracy".

Until democracy prevails we'll have to stick to opinion polls. The latest, done by YouGov for ITV's Y Byd ar Bedwar has the Labour lead shrinking slightly and a projection that puts them on 30 seats. I'm happy to stick to the line that Labour are not home and dry. That's what Labour themselves are saying, as you know. But that's also what some thoughtful and wise old owls from other parties have been saying for some time and they, as my friend Jayne used to put it, have been round the (campaigning) block more times than Mr Whippy.

Opinion polls, remember, can be wrong and even when they're right, bang on even, they might not be giving you an accurate picture of what's really happening from constituency to constituency. You get a picture of how voters feel and whether there's a swing at work but there's so much that can counter a swing and mess up your maths.

One comment that struck me as a key one came from a Plaid candidate. It's not that our vote is going anyhwere, she said. It's not that we're finding a lot more Labour voters either. But what we are finding is that people are more prepared to tell us they're voting Labour.

Work that one into your projections and good luck with pin-pointing where democracy takes us by Friday lunchtime.

The plinths of Wales

Betsan Powys | 18:24 UK time, Monday, 2 May 2011

Watch the last televised clash before the election between the four main party leaders from Newport at 10.40pm tonight on BBC1 Wales.


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