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Archives for December 2010

The Big Society

Betsan Powys | 07:30 UK time, Friday, 24 December 2010


I have, as you may have spotted, already started a Christmas break from blogging. I've been tempted back, though, by two things.

First - because I've no idea who the vast majority of you are, little idea really what life is like and what your Christmas is going to bring but I can, at least, rely on the blog to tell you that I genuinely hope it'll be a good one, a happy one. Thank you for dropping in all year long.

Secondly - because of something a neighbour said.

At 8.30am yesterday morning this is what our street looked like.

A note had come through the letter box from the man up the road suggesting we all turn up first thing, shovel in hand, to turn a treacherous road into a safer one.

Out came the neighbours - the tough guys out front, cutting through the ice, heads down, looking terrifyingly purposeful. They were followed by the second tranche of helpers shoving the ice to one side, while others brought up the rear, brushing and coaxing the tarmac back into view. The builder from up top finished things off with two trails of grit.

"Do you think this is it then, the Big Society?" asked my neighbour - and friend - from across the road. What did everyone think?

Some thought it might well be but just hadn't thought of it like that.

Some thought a bit before deciding they've no idea what the Big Society is all about, so can't tell, frankly, whether a bit of neighbourly nous counts.

Others looked horrified, in a way that suggested if the words Big' and 'Society' had appeared on the note that came through their door, they would have stayed in bed.

Either way: by lunchtime this is what our street looked like.

Nadolig Llawen bois - a diolch - and a happy Christmas to you all.

"I'm a Celebrity ..."

Betsan Powys | 12:58 UK time, Thursday, 16 December 2010


When the US Ambassador Robert Tuttle visited Cardiff in 2007, he brought his wife Maria with him. Her ancestors, she told journalists, were Welsh and she was trying to track them down.

The problem for Mrs Tuttle was that while she was telling us this, she was wearing a Burberry coat - the luxury brand company who were in the process of closing their factory in Treorchy and moving production to the Far East where labour was cheaper.

Wikileaks hasn't revealed what Mrs Tuttle thought of the headlines she generated here but a classified document has revealed what Lembit Opik, then a Shadow Housing Minister, told her husband about his boss back in March 2008.

According to Mr Opik, Nick Clegg "surrounded himself with insiders who carry out his wishes without consulting others, thus allowing Clegg to avoid direct confrontation, a trait some party members have pointed out to us as one of his failings. According to Opik, Clegg's thin skin also showed itself during the lead-up to the March 5 fiasco, when Clegg derided one of Opik's suggestions in front of the Lib Dem cabinet, then adopted it without telling Opik. When Opik confronted Clegg about it, Opik says he was immediately whisked away by a Clegg crony who begged him not to make a scene in public".

"Relaxed" doesn't do justice to the response from the Welsh Liberal Democrat press office. "He's been in the jungle. Who cares."

Not Lembit Opik, you imagine, who'd probably rather eat a plateful of witchetty grubs than a slice of humble pie

Workings out

Betsan Powys | 12:41 UK time, Wednesday, 15 December 2010


Mr George knew and Mr Stevens knew it too.

I didn't get maths. No, hang on. I did get there in the end but not without a great deal of slogging along the way. Even if the answer was right, you'd see from the workings out that getting there had been pretty tortuous. And there's the thing. From my limited memories of "Dwbwl Maths" it was always drummed into us that showing your workings out was nearly as important as the answers themselves.

When he made his headline-grabbing pledge that Welsh domiciled students would pay no more than £3,290 in tuition fees for the next six years, the Education Minister faced a chorus of sceptical voices. While some were cheering, others - not least Welsh Conservatives - were demanding to see his "workings out".

The promise appeared to be so expensive that it was hard to see how Leighton Andrews was going to find enough cash to pay for it.

Today he's published the numbers behind the pledge in a ministerial statement. It's called "The Forecast for Income for the Higher Education Sector in Wales from 2011-12 until 2016-17" - a bit less headline-grabbing certainly - but it makes interesting reading.

The top line conclusion of the statement, not surprisingly, is that the figures add up. At the time of his announcement the Minister said he would pay for the pledge by top-slicing the public money that goes to Welsh universities by 35%.

What does that mean in pounds and pence? It means that the public money going to fund the Welsh higher education sector from HEFCW will fall from £395m next year to £301m by 2016-17.

At the same time, fee income is forecast to rise from £224m to £411m over the same period.

So, some back of the envelope workings out show that while public income is down by £94m, fee income is up by £187m by 2016-17.

The conclusion, then, is that it looks as though the Welsh higher education system will be benefiting by a net £93m in cash terms as a result of the changes. All the Minister's other assumptions are for modest inflation rises in research income, contracts and other fees.

Interestingly, his estimate for the average level of fees being charged from 2012 is £7,000, suggesting there's an expectation that not all universities will go straight for the £9,000 maximum.

With all the changes being proposed - and stirring strong feelings in some parts - it all adds up to a picture where income for the sector as a whole will be flat in real terms after the six years.

So the Conservatives have got the figures they pressed for and now they'll be making some calculations of their own.

It's fair to say there was general surprise that when the Conservative "Shadow Budget" was published last week, one of the proposals was to scrap the Assembly Government fee subsidy policy. Their view seems to be that it's a "robbing Peter to pay Paul" policy - taking the money off the universities, giving it to the students, who then give it back to the universities.

Now assuming they would maintain public spending on universities at something like its current level, while allowing fees to be raised in line with England, then in theory at least, it's win win for universities. There should be an eager queue of vice-chancellors outside polling booths in May, lining up to put their cross in the blue box, keen to see a pretty substantial rise in income for higher education establishments.

Students, of course, are unlikely to be as enthusiastic. They like the deal they've been promised and won't want to give it up. Mind you it may have struck them - just as it's started to strike others - that the Assembly Government's policy will only be sustainable if it's coupled with a strict cap on student numbers at Welsh universities.

Why? Because a free for all for university recruitment would blow a hole in the figures pretty rapidly. And what if subsidised Welsh students flock to English universities in their droves? An unanswered question.

Another unanswered question so far is the impact on individual institutions. Each Welsh university is now frantically modelling what the changes will mean for them. Some will certainly benefit more than others - some will find themselves in real difficutly.

Their workings out are unlikely to be as straightforward as the Minister's.

In the chair.

Betsan Powys | 07:02 UK time, Tuesday, 14 December 2010


A couple of weeks ago it was, reportedly, proving difficult to fill the Yes campaign chair.

Last week it wasn't just filled, we were told. Read the update on this blog entry and you'll see the suggestion that the hotseat was to be occupied not by just anyone but by just the person the Yes campaign would have wanted ... only they hadn't known they felt as strongly about the outcome of the referendum on March 3rd and the future direction of the National Assembly as they did.

What happened in the meantime? Did the Yes campaign team happen to read this article perhaps? Did they read Roger Lewis, the WRU group Chief Executive, lambasting the decision by the BBC not to broadcast the pre-match events and opening minutes of the Wales v New Zealand match at the Millennium Stadium? Did they go on to read these impassioned closing paragraphs?

"The voice of Wales, our voice, must be heard. It must be heard in Wales and in the corridors of the decision- makers and opinion formers in London as well as in Cardiff.

"If we want Wales to win, not just in rugby but beyond the field, we all have to take responsibility. We have to take responsibility for ourselves.

And that means convincing the powers that be, wherever they are, to have confidence in us and our abilities to make the right decisions. To do that, we must have the confidence in ourselves.

All of us in Wales, in whatever walk of life, must be prepared to take control of our own destiny".

Then again perhaps he'd already accepted the invitation to sit in the Yes campaign chair and had seen a chance to score a few early points. Perhaps we'll be told today.

Why would Roger Lewis be "just the chair" the Yes campaign would have wanted?

A few stabs at guessing how their minds might have been working:

He's an extremely tough operator - iron first in a nubuck glove (or whatever it is rugby chiefs wear on a cold Saturday.)

He got hold of the WRU, get hold of its finances and turned things round.

He made it to the top in the world of business ... and is Welsh.

Unlike Sir Emyr Jones Parry or Gerry Holtham he's still involved in running a high profile organisation.

He is happy to play the 'ordinary boy from Cefn Cribwr' line. ("My 83-year-old mam in Cefn Cribwr was baffled. The only red button she could see was on her cardigan. The only platform she knew of was in Bridgend railway station. Luckily, she voted for Wales and switched to S4C".)

He'll shore up the patriotic rugby vote. As the man who wore the Political Editor's shirt before he passed it to me once put it: "Politicians are not slow to spot a bandwagon and in Wales bandwagons don't come much bigger than the one marked 'rugby'.

He's charming and media friendly.

Then again they might have considered that:

He's pure crachach.

A grass roots True Wales/No campaign versus the very voice of the Welsh establishment? Tricky and risky.

Unlike Sir Emyr Jones Parry or Gerry Holtham he's still involved in running a high profile organisation ... and the WRU hasn't exactly been absent from the headlines in recent years.

There have been some high profile misjudgements .

His temper has been known to flare.

His association with the Welsh rugby team isn't a 100% plus at the moment ... given the Autumn international results ... and he'll be closely associated with the fortunes of the men in red shirts. Doesn't the form of the All Blacks decide elections in New Zealand?

The referendum takes place in the middle of the Six Nations.

You don't imagine, somehow, that he owns an anorak (then again ... maybe knowing all about the LCO process versus Part 4 isn't such a great thing ...)

Roger Lewis will be presented as Chair of the Yes campaign this lunchtime in the Barry YMCA.


"This will be a people's campaign, not a politicians' campaign" said Roger Lewis who was NOT in Cardiff (in Barry) and where there was NOT a politician in sight (YMCA).

My colleague wandered over to chat to a few of the lunchtime crowd in the cafe where the WRU chief and Yes Campaign chair was doing his round of interviews. Did anyone know who he was, what he was doing there?

"His face is familiar" said one woman. "Um .. is he an MP?"

Showing their figures

Betsan Powys | 13:18 UK time, Thursday, 9 December 2010


What does an 'unveiling' suggest to you?

A polite public gathering munching vol au vents as a plaque is revealed? A sharp intake of breath as a villain is unmasked? A provocative dance? How about the opposition outlining their spending plans?

If you were hoping for the Dance of the Seven Veils I'm sorry to disappoint. The 'unveiling' I'm talking about is "today's very rare publication of an opposition party's public spending priorities", the figures the Conservatives say prove it is possible, justified and right to ring-fence spending on health.

In effect, it's a shadow budget without the frills. A shadow budget with very little, in fact, other than headline figures. And no fanfare either, no press conference, no media briefing on a day when most eyes will be trained on Westminster and the vote on tuition fees.

When the party went for it, the policy of ring-fencing health spending must have felt like a real winner. In fact I'm quite sure that those who came up with it and championed it were convinced it would be a real winner. It's straightforward, easy to grasp, attractive - all in all a headache for a government planning to cut health spending while in England and in Scotland, governments are pledging to defend it til the last.

A home run, thought some Conservatives, leading all the way to votes won in May.

Labour and Plaid thought so too - or feared it. Show us the money they said. Show us the figures. Show us what you would cut in order to save the millions needed to protect health spending. And what exactly do you mean by protecting health spending? The party leader and then Health spokesman didn't always seem to be singing from the same hymn sheet. When we asked how the pledge would be paid for, the leader sounded as if he'd been caught off guard.

So today, the Conservatives show the headlines if not the maths. Every department - other than health - takes a deeper cut than already inflicted by Labour and Plaid.

WAG's plans Conservative

Health and Social Services -7.6% NIL

Social Justice and Local Government -7.4% -12.5%

Education, Children & Lifelong Learning -8% -12%

Economy and Transport -21.3% -30%

Environment, Sustainability and Housing -21% -25%

Rural Affairs -12.7% -15%

Heritage -13% -20%

Public Services and Performance -24.4% -30%

Central Services and Administration -19.1% -25%

A few more veils come off too.

In government the party would introduce a public sector pay freeze for salaries over £21,000, postpone a number of road building projects, make a further reduction of 1.5% in the local government settlement, replace Communities First with a voluntary sector "Big Society" programme and reverse the Assembly Government's plan for Welsh students to pay lower fees than their counterparts in England.

There would also be a "continued war on waste." In other words 'bloated WAG departments" watch out and bye bye free breakfasts and universal free prescriptions.

Labour, Plaid and the Liberal Democrat response? To laugh at the lack of detail, put inverted commas around the word shadow "budget" and accuse the Conservatives of slipping their list of savage cuts out when they think no-one is watching.

The Conservative plan? To hope, perhaps, that they've revealed just enough leg to bat off future questions about how practical the health spending pledge is but not reveal so much that they've disclosed too many wobbly bits.

When Irish eyes were smiling

Betsan Powys | 10:12 UK time, Wednesday, 8 December 2010


It's that time of year - politicians picking up awards for work done, punches landed and journalists wondering how many pieces they'll be asked to prepare looking back at the year that was and forward to the year yet to come.

Out of the starting blocks early, one of my colleagues, Owain Clarke. For CF99 tonight he's been looking at economic development - sizing up plans for change to come and looking back at how the Assembly Government has attempted to transform the Welsh economy in the past.

He found this snippet of information fed into the BBC's news system a decade ago.

'Assembly First Minister, Rhodri Morgan, said that the transformation of the economy they are seeking in "A Winning Wales", the Administration's 10 year economic plan, is not tried very often - the only recent example being that of the Irish Republic. He said that the Irish Republic's example had provided inspiration for the strategy and that Wales required the same national unity as they had displayed in Ireland in order to succeed'.

A good morning's work in the archive.


Followed by another dreadful afternoon's lot of comparative statistics.

The future Yes to more powers campaign Chair - rumoured to be from the business world and according to supporters at least "just the person we wanted but never thought we could get" - will apparently be unveiled before Christmas.

Given the recent answers to "how are we doing compared with others" have been "dreadful" and "even worse " supporters of more powers must also be hoping that he/she is a wo/man with a plan.

How did we do 2

Betsan Powys | 10:56 UK time, Tuesday, 7 December 2010


So - how did we do?

The answer is badly. Very, very badly and no-one is saying any different.

Schoolchildren in Wales are performing below international and UK averages for reading, maths and science.

We are, as in 2006, ranked lowest of the UK countries but by this latest set of figures, we are cast adrift from England, Scotland and Northern Ireland who are leaving us trailing.

These are the bare statistics that point to that growing gap:

READING: 2006 - 481 2009 - 476 CHANGE -5

MATHS: 2006 - 484 2009 - 472 CHANGE -12

SCIENCE 2006 - 505 2009 - 496 CHANGE -9

The Education Minister didn't pull his punches; neither did he accept the argument from the Liberal Democrats this morning that the gap in funding between schoolchildren in Wales and in England - £500 per pupil - was at the heart of these "disastrous" figures:

"There can be no alibis and no excuses. Countries with less money spent on education than Wales have done better than Wales.

"Schools, local authorities, and ourselves as government need to look honestly at these results and accept responsibility for them. If we are to secure a successful educational future for Wales we cannot tolerate complacency in the classroom".

The classroom - that's where his finger was pointed.

"The young people of Wales have the same potential as young people across the world. We need to refocus on higher standards, set our ambitions and expectations high and look for improvement in every aspect of our system.

"Let me be clear - we need to address this as a matter of absolute urgency. It requires honesty, leadership and a new approach to accountability."

Teaching unions are united in warning him against "a knee-jerk response" and have been assured, they say, that the minister isn't about to start playing "a blame game".

Parents and their children, you suspect, won't care for metaphors today. They will look at these figures and insist that something tangible happens and starts happening now.


It's a busy day in the Bay, so forgive an update on another story - the Language Measure.

A hint from one source this morning that this afternoon's session, with its 71 amendments, might not take quite so long "if the government plays ball".

An even plainer hint from the Liberal Democrats that the "rebel" Plaid AM Bethan Jenkins' amendment on official status may not be tabled, after all. The Lib Dem group would support it "if it is tabled at all". They suspect it's "a publicity stunt."

A senior Plaid figure confirms that "the talking is still going on."

UPDATE 12.25

A new compromise government amendment on the Language Measure has arrived.

I give you the words they plan to insert: "Without prejudice to the general principle of subsection (1) ..."

To some readers of the blog that will mean an awful lot. To others it will mean absolutely nothing.

So what is it all about? I give you the suggestion that this is "a little fig leaf" as one source put it. In other words, this is an attempt to persuade those who are still voicing real concerns that the measure fails to deliver official status for the Welsh language, that it truly does the job.

Will it please everybody? No. Will it please some that there's been an attempt to bolster the wording? The government certainly hopes so.

Was it done to please Bethan Jenkins? Absolutely not, comes the response - with feeling. This was being planned in response to concerns raised with the minister and long before the Plaid AM came up with her amendment. "In fact she made it all the more difficult to achieve this because now it looks as though we've giving in to her" is the line from one of her pretty angry colleagues.

If you spot Bethan Jenkins sitting on the Plaid naughty step, you'll know why.

The "status campaigners" - a group who opted for detailed legal argument rather than chants to persuade the government to bolster the wording of the measure - are more than happy.

"This is a historical step which will lay a solid foundation for the future. People want to be able to live their lives through the medium of Welsh, rather than be forever protesting. Future generations will acknowledge what has been achieved today".

UPDATE 12.45

What are the odds that the Plaid press officer who pressed the publish button on this story a bit too early will be joining Bethan Jenkins on that naughty step?

(I gather the story - that Elfyn Llwyd will have a broad smile on his face come tonight's Wales Yearbook Welsh Political Awards - has been taken down. Please do try and look surprised when you hear that he's won.)

UPDATE 13.50

I said it might be a busy day.

The Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has confirmed that John Walter Jones "has written to confirm his decision to retire as Chair of the S4C Authority". He's standing down with immediate effect after 6 years in the job - with immediate effect and some relief perhaps.

Here is some of what the Captain had to say in his final missive:

"The situation pertaining at S4C cannot be allowed to continue.

"Clearly there are those that are reluctant to allow the organised change that you and I agreed upon in November to take place.

"The S4C Authority must be unquestionably united and single minded in its quest for an answer to the challenges that face the channel. Anything other than unanimity of approach can but be destabilising and result in an intolerable situation of instability for the dedicated staff at S4C and for the programme suppliers."

He adds, "the current obsessions by some with issue neither related to content nor output is saddening, but it must be realise that whilst a myriad different agendas exist, S4C is broadcasting programmes of which it can be rightfully proud.

"The vast majority of staff are dedicated to delivering success for S4C.

"Action now needs to be taken to ensure that misperception does not become reality. Part of this action must be my immediate retirement so that those charged in statute with ensuring the public accountability of S4C deal with the real and pressing challenges and concentrate their efforts on the resolution of the key issue."

In his response, the Culture Secretary seems to indicate that he would have rather that Mr Jones had stayed on in his post. " I am sorry that you felt this was the only option to make progress at S4C. I would like to thank you for your 6 years of dedicated service to the channel and the way you have approached your roles as both a member of the Authority and subsequently as Chair."

This take from Alun Cairns MP: "I'm very sorry that the S4C Authority have forced the chairman out, and now look to the remainder of the authority to do the honourable thing and follow suit. It's clear to me that the established members of the authority who have been there for some time are the root cause of the problem."

The same message from Labour AM Alun Davies, rather more bluntly put: "So John Walter Jones has resigned. Again. It was inevitable. He had lost all credibility. Now what about the rest of the S4C Authority?

UPDATE 17.15

John Walter Jones has just been talking to my colleague Gareth Glyn on Radio Cymru. He's confirmed that he's no longer chair of the Authority but has also confirmed that the process of appointing a new Chief Executive has been put on hold. No surprises there. The temporary Chief Executive, Arwel Elis Owen, has been asked to stay on for another 6 months.

Spot the link

Betsan Powys | 08:05 UK time, Tuesday, 7 December 2010


Helen Mary Jones and Vince Cable - what do the Plaid Cymru deputy leader and the Lib Dem Business Secretary have in common?

Will they both be appearing on Strictly Come Dancing this Christmas?

No. He will, she won't.

Do they both have sisters who are stand-up comedians?

No again. She has, he hasn't.

The answer is they're both senior figures in their respective parties who've felt the need to come out and make it clear that they support and will vote for measures put forward by their own parties.

In Westminster we're told Vince Cable will indeed vote for a rise in tuition fees.

In Cardiff Bay, ahead of today's vote on the Welsh Language measure, Helen Mary Jones has issued a press release saying that she will back the measure as put forward by the Plaid Heritage Minister, Alun Ffred Jones. The measure would impose duties on public bodies and large companies like utility suppliers to provide service through the medium of Welsh. It would also create a Welsh Language Commissioner whose job it will be to protect the rights of Welsh speakers. It also, says Helen Mary Jones, delivers on its intention of giving official status to the Welsh language on a par with English - and achieves that aim without involving judges and messy court cases.

This is how she put it :

"It would be dangerous for there to be a weakness in the measure that would allow the very status of the language to be left in the hands of a judicial interpretation, which on any given day, could be completely indifferent to the needs of Welsh language speakers. The measure, as it has been presented, takes that risk off the table and ensures that this is as far reaching as it could possibly be."

At least one Plaid AM disagrees. Bethan Jenkins has tabled an amendment that makes it clear she sides with language campaigners who've argued consistently that the measure, as it's worded, fails to guarantee official status for the Welsh language.

She is, say those campaigners, brave and principled. Question is will any of her fellow Plaid AMs stand with her and support her amendment? The group held a meeting last night and I'm told by one source at least that "the group will give its support to Alun Ffred as the minister".

There are 71 amendments to consider this afternoon, a sign, says the minister, that he has listened and taken account of the different viewpoints that have emerged over the past few months.

Will this be the end of a long road, the Heritage minister was asked this morning. I hope so he said, with conviction and with the air of a man who is hoping to come for air very soon.

Spot the difference!

Betsan Powys | 15:32 UK time, Monday, 6 December 2010


Now that you've done your homework, take a moment to enjoy a game of spot the difference.

Can you come up with, um, say one big difference between these two leaflets? The first was published by the Welsh Labour Party, centrally, a few weeks ago:

While this appeared in a newsletter circulated to its members by the Dwyfor Branch Labour Party:

Followed by this:

Funnily enough, Labour Party HQ have spotted the difference already. Your answers on a postcard please.

How did we do?

Betsan Powys | 13:47 UK time, Monday, 6 December 2010


A few weeks ago I set you some homework.

I asked you to write a comparative study of two statements made in response to a Bristol University report that said doing away with league tables in Wales had - well, not quite done for the quality of education here but had left schools in Wales performing comparatively worse than schools in England. Results in both had improved but results in schools in England were greater than the improvements in Wales.

The first statement was an extract from an Assembly Government spokesperson:

"We want to improve performance across all schools and believe strongly that league tables are not the most effective way of presenting information to schools, parents, and the wider public.

"Robust self evaluation and performance data play a vital role in promoting continuous improvement and we fully endorse this. As a result we have designed an All Wales Core Data Set for primary and secondary schools which will give key information about school performance".

Then there was an "additional line", one that was emailed a little while later, from the Education Minister, Leighton Andrews:

"In Wales over the decade of devolution we have implemented most of the changes the profession wanted to see. So we don't have league tables. We will see in December when the international comparisons of school performance are reported in the OECD's PISA survey whether that approach has paid off. "

If you did your homework (or got your Mum and Dad to do it for you) I wonder whether you also thought you heard the unmistakable sound of a Minister knowing there were disappointing results coming his way and putting the onus fair and square on the shoulders of teachers.

Well tomorrow we will, indeed, see how Wales has fared.

It's not looking good. In fact it's looking bad. No, it's looking awful if the rumours amongst teachers and educationalists and teaching unions are anything to go by. A man in-the-know walked past my desk this morning and saw the headline of the Times Educational Supplement Cymru: "Wales flunks global tests". He mimed zipping his lips and left.

Those rumours suggest Wales has dropped down the world rankings, falling even further behind the rest of the UK. In other words schools in England might be worried about their failure to keep up with the rest of the world but if Wales is falling even further behind England, well, work it out. It's pretty bleak.

The words "reality check", "weak ministerial leadership", "unions having a stranglehold on educational policy", "death knell of an industrial society if we can't keep up," "widescale review of policies needed" and "game changer" are already being whispered by those who suspect that come tomorrow, the current Education Minister will tell teachers and unions that Labour have listened and made the changes they wanted to see - and look where it got them? Bottom of the class.

They'll come back at him with two crucial words: "funding gap."

A few weeks ago a couple moving to Wales to work, friends of a friend, got in touch to ask for some advice on where they should live. I did my best, shared what I know as a parent of children around the same age, as a Cardiff girl which is where he'll be working and which is where, I now gather, they'll be living.

They'd been in touch with another mutual friend who'd been just as keen to help. Where did she suggest you settle down, I asked?


She was a slightly ashamed mutual friend last week when we spoke.

I suspect she'll be a slightly smug mutual friend tomorrow.

Leighton who?

Betsan Powys | 10:44 UK time, Wednesday, 1 December 2010


The Education Minister Leighton Andrews is basking in this morning's coverage by the UK press of his surprise tuition fees announcement yesterday. It's not often an announcement in the National Assembly chamber makes the front of the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph. And despite the somewhat belligerent tone of some of the coverage (apartheid anyone?) his advisers are adamant - it shows we're doing something right, is the gist.

His mood will hopefully have only been slightly darkened by his slight misidentification on the late Wales Today bulletin last night. And doubly unfortunate that the Minister- a fanatical Cardiff City fan - shares a first name with a Swansea City legend.

The word on the street

Betsan Powys | 07:39 UK time, Wednesday, 1 December 2010


Christmas has come early, especially if you have a red and white anorak in your wardrobe.

Rather than make you wait until or annual, one-and-only St David's Day BBC Wales/ICM opinion poll we've gone for it early.

A quick run through of what the results tell us:

53% say they've vote yes
24% no
18% don't know.

A thousand people were telephoned to canvass their views and for what it's worth, the Yes vote is higher in each and every one of the 22 local authority areas. A case of no voters keeping stumm, not particularly wanting to tell a man on the other end of a phone- line how they feel, falling into 'a spiral of silence' as pollsters put it - only to turn out and make their views felt on March 3rd? It's happened before, after all. Or is this a genuine indication that attitudes have changed over a decade of devolution? No-one can tell, not even those clever polling companies.

Another point highlighted by ICM. The percentage who said they'd certainly vote is 37%. 13% said they would definitely not vote while the rest - around 50% - weren't yet sure whether they'd vote or not.

Of the 37% that said yes, definitely, we'll be out on March 3rd voting - 77% said that when they got to the polling booth, they'd be voting yes.

Another point of analysis from ICM: the suggestion in the poll that "four times as many no voters (23%) are certain not to vote, while only 6% of yes voters won't go to the polls. Part of the probable decisive victory is premised on a low turnout which will favour the yes campaign".

Pleasant reading over his cornflakes this morning for First Minister and Labour leader Carwyn Jones. The poll reveals more than half of those questioned (53%) believe he's done a good job in his first year or so in office, with only 14% saying they think he's doing a bad job. The 32% of 'don't knows' may be down to those who don't follow Welsh politics avidly, but also, as a pollster suggests, show that Mr Jones does need to get himself out and about there a bit more.

Still, a net approval rating of +39 is pretty handy, particularly given his predecessor's consistently high ratings.

The poll also delivers food for thought in the bitter battle over a proposed cut in the number of Welsh MPs. Labour MPs have been issuing dire warnings for some time now about the impact that equalising the number of voters per constituency across the UK might have - a cut of a quarter in the number of Welsh MPs. The UK Government are equally adamant that it's all about fairness.

40% of those polled were in favour of keeping the status quo, while 27% felt the reduction should take place. Another 20% feel that the numbers should be reduced, but by a smaller number to take account of Wales' geography and status.

When asked whether the cuts to public expenditure are necessary, a substantial majority agree that are - but there's a clear divide between those who feel they're being implemented too quickly - 39%, those who feel they're being brought in at the right pace - 22% and those who feel they're not being implemented quickly enough - 9%. A further 22% feel that the cuts are unnecessary.

Plenty to chew over today then, and not just for anoraks.

The tuition fees pledge from the Assembly Government yesterday came too late to be included, but an opinion poll of opposition AMs, who seemed pretty taken aback by the scale of the announcement, would probably find a healthy majority in favour, albeit pretty grudgingly.

"Nice little policy, that, nice little policy" was the nearest one opposition member could come to criticism yesterday. He was certainly looking forward to what politicians like to call "the only poll that counts" next May with a little more trepidation than before.

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