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Archives for August 2010

Getting them right

Betsan Powys | 14:39 UK time, Tuesday, 31 August 2010

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Priorities and working out what they are - not a bad way to kick off a new term.

Let's start with words that didn't go away all Summer and will loom ever larger between now and the Comprehensive Spending Review on October the 20th: public spending cuts.

What would cuts in spending in the region of 25% look like and feel like in Wales? If you've not yet got a handle on it, then you'll be hoping that Michael Hearty, the Assembly Government's new Finance Director, has. In one of the last posts before recess I described him as the man faced with sharing out the crumbs, after a succession of others who'd divvied up the cake. He was described to me this morning as being more like "the man in the soup." Let's hope he surfaces soon and lets us know just what he's found in there.

The First Minister's certainly on the look out for nasty surprises. Take a look at cabinet minutes published over the Summer and you'll find this extract:

Item 2: First Minister's items
UK Government's review of non-departmental public bodies
2.1 The First Minister indicated that the UK Government's plans to abolish a number of non-departmental public bodies could have implications for Welsh Ministers and he asked his Cabinet colleagues to be on the look out for such proposals.

"On the look out" indeed.

So dealing with cuts is priority number one. What comes next?

One government source mused this morning: "It's a short term til Christmas then it'll be the election all the way." Hang on, we chorused. The Assembly Election's not until May. What about the referendum on the Assembly's powers? "Ah yes."

I hear we'll have sight of the Electoral Commission's view on the wording of the referendum question before the end of the week. How the Assembly Government plan to get the answer they want is another matter. The four party representatives who met in August to discuss the way forward for the Yes campaign have kept stumm about their priorities.

And what about another suggestion? One that comes from the Electoral Commission indicating that the Alternative Vote referendum - which will be held on the same day as the elections to the Assembly in Wales and Holyrood in Scotland - "will be the senior poll." Does that mean it would be counted first and that results in the national elections would be delayed?

Priorities, priorities. Not sure "respect agenda" watchers will fancy that one very much.

One priority for S4C? To stem the flow of damaging stories about the departure of its Chief Executive and even more damaging questions about its governance. Don't imagine, says one political source and supporter of S4C, that it wouldn't be tempting for the Culture Secretary to get rid of the channel and tell the BBC to take over its responsibilities. Don't imagine, said the same source, that such a scenario would be at all easy to fend off. Don't imagine either that it won't have been given at least some consideration.

One of my priorities? To thank Arwyn and Bethan for taking over Betsan's Blog for the past few weeks - and to re-open the blog to comments as soon as possible.

Picking winners

Betsan Powys | 15:29 UK time, Wednesday, 25 August 2010

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A month today we'll know the name of the new Labour leader. Yes, still a month left. The campaign has already been going on for three months - a quarter of a year that is - and it's felt like it too.

But this isn't going to be another blog post about how dull the contest is, oh no. (I've just had to delete two paragraphs because that's the way it was heading.)

From September 1st, for the second time in less than a year Welsh Labour party members will receive ballot papers to elect a new leader. The first time they elected Carwyn Jones. This contest - and forgive me for stating the obvious - has been a lot less Welsh.

There have been visits - not a lot - but all the contenders have been to Wales at least once during the campaign for the hustings at the Millennium Stadium. And most have been back.

Andy Burnham is visiting Bridgend and Swansea today. Yesterday he was in Cardiff and Newport. He's not alone in not straying too far from the M4 corridor. ** (see update below)

He's not alone either in telling Welsh party members the leadership needs to 'listen more'. That was the message from all five candidates in the Cardiff hustings and yesterday Andy Burnham said there were particular lessons to be learnt from attempts by the central party to impose candidates in Wales. Few would argue with that but in terms ef elected members here, Andy Burnham's struggling for support. He was nominated by one Welsh MP to get him into the race but Ogmore's Huw Irranca Davies will be voting for David Miliband.

AMs' votes are nowhere near as valuable as their Westminsters colleagues' according to the rules of the ballot but he may pick up a couple of supporters in Cardiff Bay.

When Ed Balls visited the Assembly in early July he was forced to defend a lack of Welsh support. A long way to go he said, but Cardiff West MP Kevin Brennan who's running his campaign is still the lone declared supporter amongst our MPs and AMs. His local party have backed the other Ed by the way.

Though thought to be trailing his brother in the wider contest, in Wales, Ed Miliband's performing strongly. He's about neck and neck with his brother in declared support from Welsh MPs, while he seems to be the most popular choice amongst Labour AMs - his campaign team say 15 of the Assembly team are on board.

Mountain Ash, Cardiff Bay and Bridgend have been David Miliband's chosen destinations. His backers include Cynon Valley MP Ann Clwyd, Rhondda's Chris Bryant and Newport West MP Paul Flynn.

Two Welsh MPs nominated Diane Abbott but that doesn't mean that Sian James and Nia Griffith will vote for her. Apart from the hustings, her campaign trail hasn't taken her to Wales and she has no plans to visit before the vote says her office.

Now it's pretty difficult to gauge how Wales will go with all the union members' votes and the thousands of party members who'll have their own views.

They include First Minister and Welsh leader Carwyn Jones of course. He's not saying who he'll vote for. Probably for the best - just to avoid any awkwardness in the party conference if his choice doesn't win.

** Update: Earlier I'd said that Ed Miliband's visit to Holyhead was the only occasion the candidates had visited North Wales. It seems the Milibands have been along the A55 a couple more times! Ed Miliband stopped off in Wrexham during his visit, and brother David talked to members in Connah's Quay and Rhyl (BL)

Grassroots rumblings

Betsan Powys | 16:22 UK time, Friday, 20 August 2010

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Mohammad Asghar (right), with Nick BourneRumours at the end of last term, strenously denied at the time, that the top spot on the Conservatives' South East Wales list was a done deal for 2011 now appear very wide of the mark.

The claim that former Plaid AM Mohammad Asghar would take the number one position from the established Tory stalwart William Graham, which gained pretty wide currency around Cardiff Bay, looks terribly premature.

We understand there is grave disquiet in the higher echelons of the Welsh Conservatives that Asghar (known to all as Oscar) may not even feature on the list at all - that is, if those in charge of the re-selection process have their way.

Oscar, as you will recall, dramatically defected to the Conservatives from Plaid Cymru last year. The terms of the deal were never made public, but in political terms, the move was fairly simple, involving a triumphant press conference with party leader Nick Bourne and then a new seat the other side of the Assembly chamber.

It's party policy that all sitting Tory list AMs should be guaranteed a place on the list for the forthcoming election if they want it - the order is up to the party in that region. Mr Bourne confirmed to us during the course of last term that guarantee applied to Oscar as well as his new Conservative list colleagues. The party centrally have been more than happy with his loyalty and work-rate since he crossed the floor.

However, every name on the regional list, sitting or not, still has to be formally selected or re-selected by the party in that area. The meeting to decide the South East Wales regional list is due to take place next Friday, and will be overseen by the Newport West constituency party.

The party hierarchy have picked up strong signs of a concerted campaign against Oscar ahead of Friday's meeting, and it's got them seriously worried. They're braced for a potential backlash should the party be seen to be ditching the Assembly's only ethnic minority member.

Such is the concern that Conservative Central Office are even preparing themselves to over-ride their grassroots if the campaign against Oscar is successful. Stopping Friday's selection meeting in advance would take a hurried rule change, but a more likely scenario is that the national Management Board would meet very soon afterwards, and impose the candidates for the list, including Oscar.

None of this, of course, is conducive to a harmonious run up to the 2011 election for the Conservatives in South East Wales, but all the signs are that the party's leadership are preparing to face down elements in their grassroots, and are convinced that it's a battle they can't afford to lose.

S4CV

Betsan Powys | 14:52 UK time, Wednesday, 18 August 2010

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arwelowen304other.jpgIt felt like one of those episodes of The Apprentice when the candidates are quizzed by some of Lord Sugar's friends from business - trying to sniff out any inaccuracies or inconsistencies in their CVs.

This afternoon on 'The Media Show' on Radio 4, the interim Chief Executive of S4C, Arwel Ellis Owen, was interviewed by big beast of the media world, Steve Hewlett.

Mr Ellis Owen, who's been in the job for just over a fortnight, would have expected some tough questioning over the recent troubles at S4C - the departure of its Chief Executive Iona Jones, talk of huge cuts to its budget and of viewing figures.

But as the interview drew to an end, Steve Hewlett asked one more question.

SH - I'm looking at a copy of your CV from your company cambrensis communications' website, which appears to suggest that you were editor at some stage of Panorama and Newsnight - is that right?

AEO - I'm happy to stand by my record in public service broadcasting over 40 years. Anybody who thinks that the BBC would have selected me to be head of programmes in Northern Ireland at a very very sensive time, and would have thought that I would not have been exposed to the full rigours of the news and current affairs...

SH - Forgive me, I'm not questioning any of that. I'm questioning what your CV says, which is that you were editor of Panorama and Newsnight.

AEO - I was involved with the programmes over the years...

SH - But you were not editor as your CV says.

AEO - The definition of editors Steve is a very difficult one.

SH - Well, I was the editor of Panorama, I'm not sure you were, were you?

AEO - I was involved with individual programmes and was the editor of individual programmes

SH - But you were not the editor of Panorama or Newsnight.

AEO - Well, once you are an editor in the BBC, you are an editor...

SH - You were not the programme editor of either of those programmes. I'm only saying it because, look, your CV here says "After periods in Cardiff and London as editor of news and current affairs programmes such as Week in Week Out, Panorama and Newsnight, Arwel was appointed to Head of Programmes BBC Northern Ireland in 1985". My take on that is that it says you were editor of Panorama and Newsnight, were you?

AEO - I was not the editor of the programmes that's for certain but I was in an editorial position in the programmes. As you would know if you were editor of Panorama, the head of programmes in Northen Ireland has a crucial role to play in the chain of command, and in terms of editorial reference. And I was actively involved in a number of those programmes on the editorial side of it, and I think that's the reflection in the statement that I have there.


You can listen to the programme on the BBC iPlayer

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Betsan Powys | 11:52 UK time, Wednesday, 18 August 2010

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....'find out what it means to... erm... Welsh politicians'. It doesn't scan quite as well as Aretha's line but as everyone's looking back at a 100 days since the UK coalition set about its business, it's a good opportunity to assess how the so-called 'respect agenda'' between the UK and Assembly governments is coming along.

In fact "established a mutual respect agenda" appears on the UK government's list of it's "achievements in the first 100 days".

I don't know how you measure success in "establishing an agenda" but David Cameron and Nick Clegg seem to think it's going pretty well. But note, it's a "mutual" agenda which suggests that respect is flowing freely in both directions along the M4 - despite the odd constitutional roadblock.

Things got off to a shaky start with the spat between the First Minister and Carwyn Jones and Welsh Secretary Cheryl Gillan about the timing of a referendum on further Assembly powers.

Undeterred Cheryl Gillan addressed AMs in June, with references aplenty to the new spirit of respect in Westminster-Wales relations.

Since then, there's been the odd exchange over the Assembly Government's bid for powers over housing, and Nick Clegg's plan to have a referendum on changing the voting system for the UK general election on the same day as the Assembly election.

Conservative AM and MP Alun Cairns is full of praise for the approach adopted by Welsh Secretary Cheryl Gillan. He says she's showing plenty of respect towards Ministers in Cardiff Bay but that it hasn't always been "mutual". It's clear that many Conservatives also think that it's a pretty effective tactic in disarming political opponents.

Respect sounds nice, says Labour MP and former Assembly First Secretary Alun Michael, but it's likely to come a cropper when the reality of spending cuts hit the Assembly government's budget. That will become clearer after October's Comprehensive Spending Review.

The next 100 days may make it even more difficult for both sides to show a little respect - even just a little bit.

An unfortunate episode

Betsan Powys | 17:49 UK time, Tuesday, 10 August 2010

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Hello, I'm Bethan Lewis - a Political Reporter for BBC Wales and second off the subs bench to update the blog while Betsan's on holiday. Thanks to our Parliamentary Correspondent Arwyn Jones for filling us in on the gossip from the Eisteddfod last week. He's now taking a pre-season break before returning to Westminster for the early return of MPs at the start of September.

Arwyn blogged last week about the First Minister's sort of, almost, not-quite launch of a Yes campaign for the referendum on further Assembly powers on the Eisteddfod maes.

In his speech he said only a 'yes' vote would give Wales the chance of securing more funding from the UK Treasury.

According to Mr Jones, the UK government would not see the need to review the way Wales is funded via the Barnett formula if the Welsh public reject more powers.

Welsh Conservatives and the Treasury have rejected the link and so in a press release today has the Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Kirsty Williams.

She claims the First Minister is "in danger of dividing the Yes campaign before it even gets off the ground."

She's written to Carwyn Jones and asked for his assurance that he'll "avoid hijacking the referendum issue in this way for party political advantage" in the run up to next year's referendum.

Not averse to some party politicking herself it seems, Kirsty Williams reminds Mr Jones that the Barnett formula "was was one invented by your party and sustained by successive Labour governments".

Party politics will go on in the months leading up to the vote but it's an indication of the challenge of coming up with a coherent campaigning message for the referendum which will satisfy all the parties involved.

The Lib Dems and those Tories who will feature in a yes campaign won't tolerate too much UK government bashing.

Kirsty Williams calls for them all to move on, but there's potential for this type of "unfortunate episode" to be repeated over the next few months.

And they're off (sort of)

Betsan Powys | 18:29 UK time, Thursday, 5 August 2010

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Earlier I wrote how Carwyn Jones got quite close to kicking off the "Yes" campaign yesterday. Well it seems the launch just got a step closer.

A little bird tells me the Committee to form the Yes campaign will be meeting in the morning. It will consist of Carwyn Jones, Ieuan Wyn Jones, Nick Bourne and Rob Humphreys, the former president of the Welsh Liberal Democrats.

Despite the polls suggesting a fair amount of support for a Yes vote, they'll certainly have their work cut out. The political anorak's political anorak, Richard Wyn Jones was on the maes today saying how difficult it will be to entice voters to the polling stations.

Moving from Part 3 to Part 4 of the 2006 Government of Wales Act, it seems, isn't quite the electoral turn on you'd expect it to be. And as Carwyn Jones said in his speech yesterday; "If that's what we fight the referendum on, we will lose"

They might want to get their thinking caps on, then.

Maes Musings

Betsan Powys | 10:05 UK time, Thursday, 5 August 2010

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Greetings from the Maes!

I'm sorry if the blogging's been a little light this week, but here's a quick guide to what's been happening....

The rumours about what happened at S4C have been making the rounds, as bosses tried their best to avoid turning a media drama into a crisis.

On Tuesday night, the chair of the Authority, John Walter Jones quashed rumours of any wrongdoing by the former chief executive, Iona Jones; "we wouldn't have thanked her had she done anything wrong" seems to be the gist of what he was saying.

Yesterday, Carwyn Jones edged closer to launching the "Yes" campaign of the referendum on the Assembly's powers. His point was that a no vote would mean the UK government seeing no need to reform the way Wales is funded.

A chat with the Treasury, however, should lay to rest his fears. A spokesman said that reforming the way Wales is funded isn't a priority. But that has nothing to do with the Assembly's referendum, it's to do with the fact that the priority for them right now is to reduce the UK's budget deficit.

And so to today. Ieuan Wyn Jones' speech on devolving the broadcasters to the Welsh Assembly Government, it seems, hasn't gone down too well with some of his AMs. Former Culture Minister, Rhodri Glyn Thomas told the Western Mail today that the party needs a "coherent message" ahead of next year's Assembly elections.

He also has a bit of a dig at the party's campaign during this years' General Election. Here's a snippet for you:

"It's certainly the case that we failed to get a clear message across during the General Election campaign. Going on about the TV leadership debates is the only thing many people remember."

Ouch. Add to that talk of very "frank and lively" discussions within the party after the campaign, and you get the feeling as is not as well as it could be. There are a lot of Plaid's rank and file on the maes. I'm off to find out what they think...

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