FMQs is back. Oh yes it is.


Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, the opposition parties have had enough. First Minister's Questions isn't worth the order paper it's written on. Or that, at least, is the view of all three opposition party leaders.

For too long, they say, they've turned up to First Minister's Questions on a Tuesday and left with - wait for it - no answers. They've turned up with "relevant" and "salient" questions and left with a First Minister who hasn't even attempted to answer them. In fact, FMQs has become a pantomime.

Before you jump in with 'oh no it's not' or 'but pantomime's FUN' - read on.

It kicked off at Plaid Cymru's weekly press conference, the first of the new year. Leanne Wood saw little to celebrate. The Welsh government claims to stand up for Wales, she said, to act as a shield but shies away from real action.

She went on the attack, a mode many of those who cast her as leader last year rather like. In fact they'd hoped to see a bit more of it - during First Minister's Questions for instance.

So, she was asked, why had she failed to land many punches on Mr Jones when the chance is there?

Because the weekly opportunity to hold the First Minister and his government to account has become "a bit of a farcical pantomime space", she said. Not only does it fail to engage the people of Wales. Apparently - and even more problematically - it fails to engage the First Minister himself. Questions are put in good faith. Does he answer them? Oh no he doesn't.

Liberal Democrat leader Kirsty Williams agreed. Privately her political opponents reckon she comes up with half decent questions. Publicly she seems to elicit the most dismissive First Ministerial swipes. Her take was straightforward: the First Minister rarely even attempts to answer what he's asked.

Ask some mischievous Labour backbenchers and they just might tell you he doesn't answer questions planted amongst them ... but back to another scene, the Conservative press briefing.

Not only had the Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies had enough. He'd had enough in November of last year. He wrote back then to the Presiding Officer asking her to set up a root and branch review of the Assembly's procedures and how its engagement with the public might be improved.

No wonder, he wrote, that no more than two hundred or so people regularly tune into the BBC iPlayer to watch FMQs. Even less surprising that "these views last an average of five minutes each". It wasn't his place to criticise the Presiding Officer he stressed but things were "too cosy". It wouldn't happen in Westminster. It doesn't happen in Holyrood. Something has to be done. All AMs must look to themselves.

Does it matter that FMQs rarely leads to contributions that make headlines, make great political capital, land punches, create trouble, make and break political careers, stop you in your tracks? Forgive the leading question. You know where I stand. Join the chorus or shout me down.

The principal boy/pantomime villain, take your pick, has not gone up in sulphurous smoke. Instead a government source goes for astonishment:

"This is preposterous. It's akin to a football team complaining that the other side won't let them score any goals.

"If any Opposition Leader is unhappy about how he or she performs each week at First Minister's Questions, then that is entirely a matter for them.

"It is clear however, the people of Wales deserve more effective political opposition in the Assembly, than exists at present."

In other words, if you want better answers, ask better questions.

And finally, what of the perception - a handy word that - laid out in this morning's Western Mail that the people of Wales deserve a more effective government, that the cabinet is about to be reshuffled?

Not yet, I gather. Is it fair to give a minister less than two years to do the job? I'm told that in the First Minister's view, oh no it isn't.

Over to you for some audience participation.

Betsan Powys, Political editor, Wales Article written by Betsan Powys Betsan Powys Former political editor, Wales

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  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    #30. 'disgracefull comments from a poster to describe welsh language policies in wales as 'dictotorail'' I actually said 'dictatorial'.
    I can only advise you, again, to read the report of Meri Huws. I find it disgraceful that she can put forward the views that she does, in the tone that she does. She purports to instruct WAG to legislate to implement her report.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    Not abuse with no explanation Alf

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    Very difficult for bigots Lyn.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    I don't know how difficult or not it is,but that has little relevance because it becomes dictatorial when people are instructed to do something they may wish not to do. I would not like to start a conversation in a language I am unable to continue that conversation in
    The point I am making is that Boxer the Horse has asked a question and raised issues that require explanation not abuse.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    I am somewhat reluctant to be drawn into the language debate again, but how is a bilingual greeting and sign off dictatorial? How difficult is it to learn a (very) few phrases?

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    But I have to smile at the analogy to a panto drawn by Betsan in this editorial. The whole thing is a pantomime, and something needs to be done urgently about the total lack of accountability at the folly.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    Sorry Alf, not rubbish at all. I have a friend who works in a particular government agency who tells me that English only speakers have to answer the telephone bi lingually. this particular Org provide Welsh language training to enable these basic greetings. only recently this org have given directives that meetings must be opened and closed bi lingually.This is not a load of c... its a fact!

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    cross we have already had one and a majority of those who voted voted for it. You can't keep on having one until you might get what you want. That is not Democracy, it is Dictatorship. The very thing you accuse others of. Celt what a load of c... you talk. that will never happen in a million years while English speakers are in a majority and you know it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    disgracefull comments from a poster to describe welsh language policies in wales as 'dictotorail'. there is nothing remotely dictatorial about it. language policy in wales is the resultt of political consent..and political consent comes from the votes of the welsh people.....its called democracy....and the welsh consistently vote for parties who support the welsh language

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    28 BtH
    This is true, but unfortunately it is happening, diverting resources from the focus of the organisation.
    The enforced use of the Welsh language in the public sector in Wales is really quite alarming, we English only speakers will soon have real problems keeping our jobs

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    #26 'the people of Wales voted for devolution'
    This is certainly true. However, it is not at all clear that they voted for dictatorial powers for the Welsh Language Commisar, or for continual creep towards 'total independence'. and Welsh medium education for all, or that the ability to speak Welsh should be the most important criterion in all public appointments throughout Wales.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    Well worth reading the following BBC link....Especially the third sentence.

    It would seem that the US State Department really do have their finger on the pulse....

    Phillip Gordon Senior Official of the US State Dept. said....

    "Referendums have often turned countries inwards"

    Scared of another one Alf? Certainly looks like you are !!!!!


  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    Well thank you Carwyn . At least the 'nats' are having a break.
    It is pathetic what these people will latch on to just to have a go at anything Welsh. They lost their pathetic arguments and then behave like spoiled little children who kick and scream on the floor. Just because they couldn't have their own way. Live with it, the people of Wales voted for devolution..With a majority.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    A small point Indy;
    Cardiff Airport problem is access - resident in Pembrokeshire I travel to the continent a lot on business.

    Bristol or Manchester are better options for me, and that should never be.
    If the access is improved, then passenger numbers will go up and the airlines return. But only if the standard of ground service & facilities improve.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    The way Carwyn Jones dealt with Kirsty Williams' perfectly legitimate question about the lack of NHS dental facilities in Wales was ignorant and arrogant to the point of being beneath contempt.

    There are thousands of people in Wales unable to access NHS dentistry and that has been true for years. I should know, I'm one of them!

    Jones has done enough damage already - it's time for him to GO!

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    You only have to look at response today when challenged on cost of airport, not telling you is reply from FM, he also says taxpayers will not be put at risk, excuse me but when he said the tens of millions would be coming from existing WG budgets, I and other taxpayers are contributing to that budget which he said before xmas was bare and could not funding for housing benefit changes!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    For the 5 minutes I watched, the FM's visible body language indicated such contempt for the entire process I quickly realised it was a waste of time watching further. If the leader has such an apparent disregard for the National Assembly then you can hardly blame the population for thinking it pointless as well. The FM should take the initiative and "add value" to the process himself.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    "FMQs has become a pantomime"

    Surely just one act in a pantomime!

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    Actually Boxer to your surprise I do agree with you on that point. Though I think they should learn English as well. Because I can't understand half of what the youngsters say today. Especially when their mouths are covered by Mobile phones.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    A salient question that should be asked, but certainly not by our Betsan (bread buttering etc) would be "how much longer will this charade go on for?". I am still laughing at the irony of the comments by a Welsh Nat on the last thread about national socialism. Except it isnt funny. Anyway must do some work, bye for now.


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