Churning up the chamber but how?
- 25 May 2012
- From the section Wales politics
In the torrent of tweets about translating Assembly committee proceedings, there were pithy, angry and heartfelt remarks aplenty. But one gem made me laugh. Here was proof, said @someoneverywitty, that the true language of the Assembly ought to be the language of dance.
We trooped off to a background briefing on the Wales Infrastructure Investment Plan, wondering whether Jane Hutt and her advisers fancied giving that a go in the said language. It would have involved movements indicating cutting (savagely, of course) and embracing (silos = out, strategic, cross-departmental thinking = in.) In the event, they opted for English.
It's unlikely the language of dance will ever make it into the Assembly chamber but on Sunday Politics Wales you'll find out just how keen some Assembly Members are to, well, liven things up a bit.
A restricted paper from the Business Committee Secretariat to the committee's members - given to the programme - is entitled, "Revitalising Wednesday plenary meetings". It turns out the Presiding Officer, Rosemary Butler, has canvassed the opinions of all but one of 23 new AMs elected in 2011 "to discuss their experiences and impressions of their first year". She may well have caught up with the 23rd by now.
All in all they took a pretty dim view of how things go in the chamber - on a Wednesday in particular. The words "repetitive and formulaic", "lack impact" and "should be more topical" creep in rather a lot.
Bottom line? They want a shake up. That doesn't mean they're up for "muttering idiot" type exchanges but they do believe parts of the current pattern of plenary business is broken and that it needs fixing.
Tune in on Sunday and you'll get a flavour of what AMs feel. Some members, who've been around a little longer than 12 months, think it's time for a pretty radical look not just at how the business is divvied up between Government and Assembly matters, but how AMs behave in the chamber, what they can discuss, what impression you get when you watch them at work and how the chamber itself is set up.
We've got some real clout, is the message from one AM. There are big choices to be made and our parties don't agree on some big, significant stuff. Politics has grown up in Wales. That just doesn't come across. Perception matters. She'd get rid of the in-the-round, non-adversarial chamber and go for a bit of face-to-face heat along with, of course, some light.
Another AM has been talking to constituents who aren't always impressed with seeing their politicians tapping away at computers in the chamber. It may mean that members can be efficient, get on with their work while keeping on eye on the debate, waiting to pounce when they have something to say. But I suspect some AMs fear "pounce" isn't exactly the first word that comes to visitors' (or viewers') minds when they see members staring at the screen, apparently oblivous to what's being said and argued over. There are unflattering comparisons made with bureaucrats at a EU committee meeting. Technocrats might be in vogue but...
Some short debates are described as "toothless". The knock-on effect? "Attendance by other members is low."
What to do? It's clear the Presiding Office believes the answer is "something".