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Archive for the ‘Welsh Assembly’ Category

Assembly members will get the chance to vote on whether or not to reinstate the two disqualified Liberal Democrat AMs on June 29th.

That’s the date when two motions – one relating to Aled Roberts and one to John Dixon – have been tabled to be discussed.

The date is the latest possible under the timetable outlined in legal advice given to the Presiding Officer, but according to several sources I’ve spoken today it’s also the earliest realistic date.

The view is that AMs will need to have all the facts and legal opinions in their possession before making a judgement and that means waiting for the police to conclude their investigation, for the Crown Prosecution Service to make its decision and then for the Assembly’s own investigation. *

One political source told me that setting a date also sends ‘a clear message’ about the intent to try to find a way to overturn the disqualifications to the returning officers of North Wales and South Wales Central.

These men, Mohammed Mehmet and John House, are crucial to what happens next because it’s they who’ll declare the two seats officially vacant and they who will nominate the next candidates on the regional lists.

I gather that they will wait until the outcome of these motions before taking any further action although that won’t stop them preparing for that action, i.e. contacting the next on the list and checking that they’re still willing and able to become Assembly members.

It’s not clear what chances the motions have of succeeding. Labour members are taking a strong line against the disqualified two as are many Conservatives.

One Labour source said to me, ‘How can they be re-instated? They were never elected?’  If that view holds sway, then it’s all over for the Lib Dem 2.

They may find support amongst Plaid members although even there it’s said that, while there’s no hardening of opinion against them, there’s not much by way of positive support.

But the Welsh Liberal Democrats remain hopeful and aren’t planning to abandon their efforts to re-instate their colleagues.

A senior source told me that the party acknowledges mistakes have been made, but that members think highly of Aled Roberts and John Dixon and want to see them in the Senedd.

Several party figures have told me that many of the sternest critics have changed their mind when the legal position’s been explained to them and they hope more will do so when the final reports are in.

Whatever the outcome, it means another three weeks of uncertainty for Aled Roberts and John Dixon who by then will have been in limbo for nearly two months and another three weeks when the Liberal Democrats only have three members in the Senedd chamber.

All this could change when the CPS makes its decision public. According to a CPS spokesman, the matter’s still with the police. The police will only say that they’re still investigating.

* I understand that the barrister Gerard Elias QC has been lined up to head the Assembly’s investigation.

The Assembly spokesman wouldn’t confirm this or otherwise, saying only that there is no investigation yet and therefore no appointment but other sources have confirmed the name.

It’s a name which may be familiar to seasoned Assembly-watchers.  Back in 2004 there was a row when it emerged Mr Elias had been vetoed by then First Minister Rhodri Morgan for the job of Counsel General.

 

UPDATE: 16:32 Here’s an Assembly statement on the Clerk’s investigation.

The investigation initiated by the Clerk of the National Assembly, into the circumstances that led to the disqualification as Assembly Members of two Liberal Democrat candidates, was suspended pending the outcome of the police investigation into the matter. For as long as that investigation is on-going it is not possible to take any final decision as to the form and timing of any resumption of the Assembly’s own investigation, although the aim of the Clerk would be to ensure that if the need arises, that investigation would be carried out as a matter of urgency. We cannot make any further comment at present.

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The dust is beginning to settle, the politicians are rested and refreshed and this is the week in which decisions will be taken which will have long-term consequences for Welsh politics.

I expect to see some movement by the end of Monday from Carwyn Jones about how he intends to deal the hand he’s been dealt. It’s a strong hand but the fact that he’s one seat short of a majority means it’ll need all his skill and strategy to play it.

In the meantime, here are some thoughts about what’s changed for each of the parties and speculation about what might happen next.

LABOUR

The Assembly group will need extremely strong discipline if it’s to sustain minority government over the next five years. Carwyn Jones has said that there is a range of options open to him from doing deals on a case-by-case basis, to more formal ‘supply and confidence’ arrangements or full coalition.

It’s pointless to speculate which he or his party prefers at this stage because there are so many variables that need to be taken into account. They’ll become clearer over the coming days.

For the party, even at this moment of success, there’s a longer-term question that won’t be answered for some time yet.

Poor electoral performances in 2007, 2009 and 2010 led to a great deal of soul-searching as a number of senior Labour figures suggested something was particularly wrong with Welsh Labour that needed fixing. Nobody’s asking the question now and it was clear during the campaign that the party is re-invigorated with a young and dynamic team now in charge of party operations.

However, it was only a year ago that Labour achieved its worst share of the vote in Wales since 1983. What it must demonstrate over the next few years is that the improvements are real and lasting and not dependent on a Tory bogeyman in Westminster.

CARWYN JONES

Something that’s been overlooked in post-election commentary is how much of a personal victory and validation this is for the Welsh Labour leader.

He already had an overwhelming mandate from his party when he was elected leader, but now he has the strong endorsement of the country. I think this is far more important than we on the outside realise.

There have always been those within his party who’ve grumbled that he’s lazy, too close to Plaid, and just plain lucky. A successful campaign which has shown how much of an asset he’s become to the party; confident performances in TV debates and the ringing endorsements of his UK party leadership has silenced those critics.

CABINET

Who will be in Carwyn Jones’ cabinet? Expect to see election mastermind Leighton Andrews rewarded with a significant role although not necessarily a different one. Pre-election he showed every intention of taking on the problem of education over an extended period. For similar reasons, Edwina Hart could well stay on in health. It’s surely time that long-term ally John Griffiths became a cabinet minister.

Labour’s manifesto hints at the possibility of a smaller cabinet. Certainly it points to a beefed-up role for Carwyn Jones himself, with a First Minister’s Delivery Unit and the FM taking on responsibility for economic development and energy policy. That could mean merging some departments. I should say that one senior Labour figure I discussed this with, dismissed the idea of a smaller cabinet saying,’why would you want more backbenchers?’

PLAID CYMRU

It quickly became clear during the campaign that Labour had taken many of Plaid’s best tunes and was belting them out with gusto. Plenty of internal and external critics are drawing unfavourable comparisons with the SNP’s campaign in Scotland.

There’s bound to be a question over the leadership of Ieuan Wyn Jones. But Plaid may think it needs to work out what went wrong before settling on a new leader.

What messages should it take from the SNP’s stunning victory in Scotland? Should it be more bold about independenceChange its name? But surely another lesson from the Scottish election is that Labour’s strategy of making the Welsh election part of a UK battle between Labour and the Conservatives may have failed in Scotland but worked here in Wales. That could well justify Plaid’s caution over talking about independence although it could be argued that Plaid’s role should now be to lead the debate and shape opinion.

The other question is whether or not it can do all this in government. Ieuan Wyn Jones has apparently told his party that it should go into government at every available opportunity. If he follows through with this policy (and if he’s in a position to do so), can his party do the job of holding an inquest, changing its approach, possibly changing its leader  – at the same time?

CONSERVATIVES

In the short term the Conservatives have a specific task – to choose a new leader who can continue the progress made under Nick Bourne. Who will get the job? Acting leader Paul Davies has to be in with a chance. Darren Millar must be a good bet. Andrew Davies wants it. Don’t rule out Angela Burns or Nick Ramsay standing.

If the Assembly group agrees on one candidate, AMs alone will have be responsible for choosing the next leader. If there’s more than one candidate, I gather the wider party votes, a situation which is thought to favour Andrew Davies.

On Thursday Alun Cairns MP said the election saw the return of two-party politics to Wales. That may be overstating it but, as the now-former leader Nick Bourne said in his interview with me, the campaign certainly was polarised.  In that same interview he speaks about his 12-year task of reinventing the Welsh Conservatives, taking them to the centre-ground of Welsh politics, ground that means more of the ‘Cymrufication’ – who would best take that legacy on?

I also asked him if it was time the party formalised that process by creating a formal Welsh party leader role – Nick Bourne has always been leader of the Conservative Assembly group rather than the party at large. He said that was a decision for the party, as was choosing a leader which is why he wouldn’t endorse any of the candidates. He also refused to speculate on the chance that he might become Lord Bourne.

LIBERAL DEMOCRATS

Speculation is rife that some sort of deal with the Liberal Democrats is Labour’s preferred option. It’s often coupled with the rather cynical explanation that it would take less to win them over than it would Plaid. But as one senior Lib Dem put it to me, ‘Kirsty’s nobody’s cheap date.’

What’s more, despite everything, Kirsty Williams is in a better position than many predicted. Yes, it was a bad election for her party but there are still five Lib Dem AMs which gives them a foundation from which to rebuild.

I’m told that within the party, the leader is praised for recognising how difficult the election would be and dealing with it as effectively as possible. More importantly, it’s said that she’s trusted by party members to be open about any arrangements she may or may not reach with Labour and not to sign the party up to any deal it could be uncomfortable with.

She’s said that her priority is to promote the priorities the Lib Dems set out during the election, and is open-minded about how that’s achieved

PRESIDING OFFICER

There’s a good deal of confusion over this with even some quite experienced Assembly hands expressing the view that having a Presiding Officer from an opposition party would give Labour a majority of one. It won’t. The Assembly’s standing orders are clear: if the PO comes from the opposition, the Deputy has to come from the government party and vice versa. Their votes are (generally) taken out of the equation thus taking the situation back to stalemate.

The Assembly could decide to suspend the rules so that both PO and DPO come from opposition parties which would have the effect of giving Labour a 2-seat majority. But to do that requires a two thirds majority, i.e. 40 AMs must vote for it. That means Labour would need the support of either the Conservatives or Plaid Cymru to do it. Why would either or those want to make life any easier for Carwyn Jones?

Who’s in the running for both posts? Dafydd Elis-Thomas must still be a consideration, even though all the hints from him and from other Assembly figures suggest he won’t be returning to the Chair. The current Deputy, Labour’s Rosemary Butler is a strong possibility for the top job. The Conservative Angela Burns (if she doesn’t run for her party’s leadership) is thought to be interested. Her colleague David Melding has already said he’s not standing. For the Liberal Democrats, Peter Black has done the job from time to time.

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Assembly negotiation room

Politics is all about behind-the-scenes negotiations but when I arrived at the Assembly this morning, I wondered if I’d stumbled across the secret room where these negotiations take place?

Perhaps the parties are already holding talks about possible coalition formations after the May 5th Assembly election?

Perhaps it’s a new room designed to be somewhere that those who disagree with each other within parties can go to make up?

It’s none of the above.

In fact it’s part of an event being held by the Council for Education and World Citizenship which is using the Assembly’s education facilities to teach students what it’s like at a UN conference.

Perhaps the concept is one that could be borrowed though. Assembly members may need a negotiation room in the coming weeks and months.

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The Independent Remuneration Board has set out the new system of pay and allowances for Assembly members elected in May. The headlines are below. Reaction to follow.

AMs’ salary to be fixed at £53,852 for four years from May (Confirms what we already knew – AMs themselves agreed to this move back in November)

Top-up salaries for ministers, deputies, Presiding Officer and Counsel General also to be fixed at current rates for 4 years

Total cost of salaries and allowances reduced by £500m for 2011-12 = £12.7m, a 7.1% reduction compared to 2010-11

AMs’ family members can still be employed but they’ll be interviewed by Assembly HR and must be shown to be the best person for the job.

The number of AMs able to claim second home support is to be reduced from 51 to 25 (Confirmation of what was recommended in the Roger Jones review and previously accepted by all parties)

Those who are eligible can only claim rent of up to £700 per month and utilities and other essential expenses.

The 35 AMs not eligible for accomodation support can claim up to 20 nights stay in Cardiff at £95 a night.

The controversial Resettlement Grant for AMs who are leaving will be restricted to those who are defeated at election. In other words retiring AMs or any who don’t seek re-election will no longer be eligible. For AMs starting in May the grant will be based on length of service.

Travel: AMs will only be able to claim reimbursement for travel in connection with their duties as an AM.
Staff: AMs will be able to employ up to 3 full time equivalents at up to a total of £89,000 but when they take staff on they should start at the basic level unless there’s a compelling reason otherwise.  AMs will not be able to transfer office costs to staff salaries.

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There was much talk at the Welsh Liberal Democrat conference and the Conservative Spring Forum at the weekend about the ‘Calman-style process’ that the UK coalition government promised would follow a Yes vote in the powers referendum.

Now that there’s been a Yes vote, leading Westminster politicians including Nick Clegg, David Cameron and Cheryl Gillan, lined up to say that promise would be kept.

There’s very little by way of detail, but I’ll tell you what I can.

The Calman commission was set up by MSPs to look at ways of ‘improving’ the Scottish parliament’s ‘financial accountability.’ It was seen by many as a way of wrong-footing the Scottish National Party government which didn’t support the commission.

It’s not clear whether or not what will happen for Wales will be a commission or some other form of review.

The First Minister Carwyn Jones told AMs he hoped it wouldn’t be a commission because he believed the Holtham commission on funding and finance for Wales, which published reports in 2009 and 2010, has already done most of the legwork on funding.

He said he’d ‘urge the UK Government to look at Holtham as THE commission.’

The Wales Office won’t commit itself one way or another, apart from noting that a lot of evidence has already been gathered and it doesn’t want to duplicate that evidence.

What about a figurehead like Calman or Holtham to lead whatever form of inquiry or review is carried out? Names have been discussed I’m told but no decision has been made.

What about terms of reference? Too early to say – no decision has been made.

On timing I can be a little more clear. I’m told the Wales Office won’t do anything until after the Assembly election on May 5th.

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As we count down to next month’s referendum on changing the Assembly’s powers, we wanted to get a bit of context about the powers that Cardiff Bay already has and how they might change if there’s a yes vote on March 3rd.

Of course, Wales isn’t the only devolved part of the UK so I’ve been on a whistle-stop tour of the two other big devolved institutions: Scotland’s Parliament and Northern Ireland’s Assembly.

Both have come to devolution by different means and for different historical reasons, but its worthwhile looking at the powers they wield as we plan to make our decision.

It was interesting to talk to the First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond as well as Northern Ireland’s First Minister and deputy First Minister, Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness to get their perspectives on devolution.

Alex Salmond said to me,

It’s very seldom in history that when a country gets the ability to have even a small bit of self-determination, very seldom it’s turned down. Wise nations tend not to turn it down and Wales is a wise nation.

In Northern Ireland, they’re playing the long game and making a go of devolution despite overwhelming odds being stacked against it.

Even so, it’s remarkable how optimistic both Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness are about their experiences.

You can see the pictures I took here and here and you can see the film of my travels in tonight’s programme. There’ll be a flavour of them too in Wales Tonight at 6pm.

Back home, the two coalition parties in Cardiff Bay seem to be going through a rocky patch.

It centres on anonymous attacks by Labour figures on the Deputy First Minister Ieuan Wyn Jones. He’s come out fighting, so does this mean the end of the One Wales coalition is in sight?

In one way it is, because there’s not much time between now and the Assembly election. Can we expect to see more of this?

Talking of tricky and tense relations, I’ve been interviewing the Secretary of State for Wales, Cheryl Gillan, at a time when relations between Westminster and Cardiff Bay seem more strained than ever.

The latest spat is over the Assembly’s refusal to co-operate with the UK Government’s plans to set up scrutiny panels for proposed elected police commissioners.

It may seem a bit obscure, but there are those who think the unprecedented move by AMs should make ministers in London think again about their plans.

I asked Cheryl Gillan about that and, on a lighter note, about what she thinks of Meryl Streep’s portrayal of an earlier leading female Conservative politician, Margaret Thatcher.

Not only will you find out that, but you will also find out who Mrs Gillan would like to play her in a film of her life. You’ll never guess so you’ll have to watch.

My guests are Liberal Democrat AM Peter Black, UKIP’s David J. Rowlands and the journalist Felicity Waters.

Join us for Sharp End at 1035pm, ITV1 Wales.

 

 

 

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I’m in the middle of flying visits to the UK’s other two devolved nations as part of ITV Wales’ coverage of the build-up to March 3rd’s referendum on Assembly powers.

Self portrait in the debating chamber

I’m trying to find out how the powers the Assembly has or would have following a Yes vote next month compare with those enjoyed by the Scottish Parliament and the Northern Ireland referendum.

To do that I’ve been in Holyrood all day, nosing around the Parliament building and asking visitors what they think about the institution, the politicians and what they’ve done or not done for Scotland.

The next stage of my journey has brought me to Belfast and tomorrow morning I’ll be doing a similar amount of nosing in Stormont.

As you can tell, this is a whistle-stop tour which is my excuse for avoiding a more detailed blog posting. You can see photos and updates by following me on Twitter or Facebook. Links on the right hand side of this page.

You can see the results of my Powers Trip on Thursday night in Wales Tonight and Sharp End.

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