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Archive for the ‘Welsh Labour’ Category

Next Tuesday in the Assembly, the First Minister will set out what his government’s stance will be on which financial powers should be transferred to Wales. We’ll have to wait for the full detail, but it’s now clear that in one significant area – corporation tax –  Carwyn Jones has shifted position.

In today’s Belfast Telegraph, a report on the impassioned debate in Northern Ireland on devolving corporation tax powers to Stormont compares the positions of the other devolved governments including Wales:

A Welsh Government spokesman said: “We are aware that the UK Government is considering devolving powers over corporation tax to Northern Ireland.

“If the UK Government does propose to devolve corporation tax powers to one or more of the devolved administrations, it should make a similar offer to Wales.”

The Welsh Government has confirmed the statement which, although hedged around with caveats, represents a significant development and a change in position by the First Minister who has, until now, resisted opposition calls to demand corporation tax be devolved.

Back in March, before the referendum on further powers he told the BBC,

In order for tax-varying powers to be devolved, particularly income and corporation tax, there would need to be a referendum – no question about that in my mind.

And last week the Western Mail reported how he expressed his concerns to members of the CBI:

Turning to tax, Mr Jones the devolution of corporation tax was “superficially attractive”.

But he added: “We shouldn’t forget the fact that if corporation tax were to be devolved and reduced, there’s a consequential hit on public finances.

“The worry I have is that if England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland can set their own rates, we will then find ourselves in a competitive spiral to the bottom, which will be fine for businesses but not so good for public finances.”

No doubt he would argue that it’s not he that’s changed position but the UK government which is considering changing its position and that his government is simply dealing with a new reality.

And underlining the First Minister’s continued suspicion of the move,  on tonight’s Sharp End Labour AM Keith Davies told me,

We’ve discussed it as a group and one of the issues Carwyn put forward was that if Northern Ireland get it they’ll be competing with southern Ireland and it’ll cost Northern Ireland a large sum of money.

Me: In that case then Wales should have that power?

KD: No because what Carwyn was saying was that it’ll cost Northern Ireland a lot of money and they’ll lose out on it.

But when I published some of this information on Twitter earlier, Plaid tweeters seized on it as evidence of a u-turn and the party has tonight put out this statement:

Plaid Cymru has welcomed the Welsh government’s u-turn on corporation tax and has called on Carwyn Jones to be proactive in making the case for Wales to take responsibility for these powers.  Ieuan Wyn Jones AM, Plaid Cymru’s Finance spokesperson, said it was positive that the argument Plaid had been making for years had brought about a change of position in the government.

UPDATE 17/06/11 16.40

I’ve now had a further statement from a Welsh Government spokesperson :

We are not actively seeking powers to devolve corporation tax. However, if the UK Government is planning to give CT varying powers to one of the devolved administrations, then we would expect this offer to be extended to Wales also.

It has to be said that reducing the rate of CT would leave a large hole in Welsh finances, at a time when a financial squeeze is being imposed by the UK Government.

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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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As political interventions go, this is one of the most intellectual: one of the UK’s leading scientists, backed by 60 other senior academics criticising all four political parties.

What worries  Sir John Cadogan is that he says none of the parties in this election campaign is addressing concerns about the funding gap between our universities and those in England and Scotland.

That’s why he’s chosen to speak to ITV Wales and why he’s written directly to the party leaders.

But why should any of them pay attention to him?

Well he certainly has the credentials as a former professor of chemistry at universities in England and Wales, as well as a government adviser and a leading figure in business.

And he’s speaking in his position as President of the Learned Society of Wales – an institution representing the creme of Welsh academia. The society has 60 fellows and is about to see its numbers more than double. These are heavyweight opinions.

Not only that, but Sir John reckons that the Learned Society is giving a voice to academics, lecturers, governors and Vice-chancellors who won’t speak out because they’re concerned that doing so will cost them dearly.

So what are his worries?

A paper produced for the Learned Society claims that universities have been significantly and deliberately underfunded for the last ten years.

It refers to figures from the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales which show the extent of the funding gap.

Hefcw’s report is here. It’s a few years old, but it shows that in 2007/8 the difference between the funding of Welsh universities and those in England was £62m and with Scotland it was £181m.

The Learned Society reckons the gap over the last decade is over half a billion and a billion respectively.

The bigger concern, though, is not the past but the future which is why Sir John has written to each of the four party leaders spelling out the situation and asking what they’ll do about it.

You can read the letter to the party leaders here.

In the absence of any replies, he’s read the manifestos and finds no credible plan to plug the gap.

Sir John told me,

One Vice-Chancellor told me that if his university had been in Scotland under the Scottish system of funding he would have had another 100 lecturers… It’s not about governors, Vice-chancellors – discoveries are made in the Library and the lab by people working at the frontier. If you don’t have those people working at the frontier with the best equipment, the best libraries and the best students – because we want to attract the best students – you’re not going to win.

And he warns that,

They can’t compete, they’ll slide. They’ll do their best and what’s remarkable is how well universities have done. There have been these pinnacles of excellence but (Welsh universities) are like a pier with too few supports and the danger is that the expensive subjects will take the hit.

That was echoed what Dr Steve Hagen of Newport University told us. He said that what’s not being invested in are things like medical, paramedical and scientific subjects – anything that requires students to spend a lot of time in expensive labs.

We tackled each of the parties with Sir John’s concerns.  I’m not sure that their replies will reassure him. See what you make of them.

Welsh Labour leader Carwyn Jones said

We know that the alleged funding gap will disappear next year because higher education in England is being destroyed, slashed by up to 80%. We’ve protected higher education as best we can in Wales while at the same time making it possible for people to afford to go to university.

Plaid Cymru’s leader Ieuan Wyn Jones said

I don’t think there has been deliberate underfunding, certainly not during the time we’ve been in government. What we have to do is to work with universities to improve research and development capacity on the side of the economy. We’ve also protected students by keeping fees down. What we also recognise is that in England 75% of the teaching grant is being cut – nothing like that has happened in Wales.

The Welsh Conservatives say the funding gap would be plugged by raising tuition fees which students would only pay after graduating and earning over £21,000.  They claim that Labour’s policy of subsidising tuition fees would ‘result in Welsh unversities being underfunded compared to those in England, resulting in a two-tier higher education system.

Kirsty Williams, the leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats said

(We) have consistently highlighted the growing gap in how our universitites are funded compared with those in England and its vital we get a good balance between support for individual students and support for institutions.  After all if we don’t keep pace with developments not just in England, but across the world, we’re not going to have a university sector that’s attractive to people.

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Three down. Today it was Welsh Labour’s turn to publish its manifesto.  Called ‘Standing Up for Wales’ you can read the full manifesto here.

It’s a big document – coming in at 109 pages compared with Plaid’s 53 and the Liberal Democrats’ 66.

And Labour, particularly the manifesto’s author Andrew Davies, reckon that in this case size does matter.

We’ve been told repeatedly that the 100-odd pages contain 400 ideas, designed to head off the accusations that, after being in power in Cardiff Bay for 12 years, Welsh Labour has run out of steam and ideas.

It’s also aimed at balancing the overwhelming theme of Labour’s campaign so far which has at times seemed more about negative attacks on the actions of the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats in Westminster than it has about positive ideas for Wales.

Despite the rhetoric, there is a large amount of common ground between Labour’s manifesto and the plans set out by both Plaid and the Liberal Democrats in the last couple of days.

When it comes to Plaid though, Labour says that although they may agree on some of the means, the ends are what divides them.

Andrew Davies said

We are for democracy and accountability, not nation-building and independence. We are Welsh, British and Labour and we do not support nation-building for Wales.

Deep within the manifesto, there’s an interesting message to be found, perhaps aimed at potential coalition partners, but a strong message anyway: expect a much more powerful First Minister if Labour is in government.

There’ll be a First Minister’s Delivery Unit and the FM will have a much bigger say in specific areas of policy.

Carwyn Jones (assuming he becomes FM) would be expected to co-ordinate the government’s approach to energy rather than leave the job to a minister.

Perhaps more signficantly, we’re told that he would ‘lead a Team Wales approach to the  economy and regeneration.’

In the manifesto itself (as far as I can make out from what I’ve read so far) economic development is the only section where the First Minister’s leadership is spelled out so clearly, every other chapter refers to what ‘Welsh Labour’ would do.

That could also contain a coded message to prospective coalition partners not to expect that job as an incentive as has been the case in the two previous arrangements.

 

 

 

 

 

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Welsh Labour press conference. Photo by Natasha Hirst

This marvellous photo (marvellous because of its quality not because my bonce is centre frame) is one of many taken by Natasha Hirst, a photographer who’s documenting Welsh Labour’s campaign. I was at one of the party’s press briefings at its Cardiff HQ, Transport House in Cardiff this morning. That’s BBC Wales’ Political Editor Betsan Powys sitting next to me. I’m glad you can’t see my terrible handwriting.

 

You can see all of Natasha’s pictures from today’s press conference and the rest of her campaign photography for Welsh Labour here. They’re worth looking at whichever party you support. But here’s another picture featuring the back of me which makes the newly-refurbished Transport House look like CSI Miami.

Photo by Natasha Hirst

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For tonight’s Sharp End, I’ve interviewed the Shadow Welsh Secretary Peter Hain about Labour’s Assembly election hopes.

First though I wanted to know about his relationship with the First Minister, Carwyn Jones.

You may remember from last week the behind-the-scenes row over Mr Hain’s criticism of the Deputy First Minister, Plaid Cymru’s Ieuan Wyn Jones.

Last week Carwyn Jones’ response seemed to suggest a sharp difference of opinion between he and Mr Hain.

Since then though both sides have done their best to pour oil on troubled waters, issuing a joint statement and holding back from any overt criticism of Plaid ministers in Mr Jones’ government.

And in my interview, Peter Hain denies intending to undermine Carwyn Jones, telling me that ‘this is a Cardiff Bay bubble story’ before adding that he supported Carwyn Jones in his leadership bid and that ‘we remain good friends.’

What Mr Hain really wanted to talk about what his belief that Labour has the best opportunity for forming a majority government that it’s had since the Assembly was created.

His reason for saying that? The fact that this will be the first Assembly election without a Labour government in Westminster.

I wondered if that ran the risk of making Labour’s campaign for May the 5th entirely negative – not according to Peter Hain who reckons it can do both things: channel opposition to the UK Government whilst building on Labour’s record here.

Is he right about that? That’s what I’ll be discussing with my guests who are the Liberal Democrat AM Veronica German, Plaid Cymru’s Neil McEvoy and the former council leader Jeff Jones.

They all have experience of local government so we’ll be talking about this week’s dramatic intervention on Anglesey: was it the right thing to do?

And I’ll be speaking to the man behind the Welsh Conservatives’ manifesto, David Melding AM, to find out how his party plans to fight the Assembly election campaign.

Join me for Sharp End, tonight at 1035pm, ITV1 Wales.

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It’s a war of words that gets to the heart of the way the two parties which form the One Wales coalition government distinguish themselves after four years of working together.

I’m told there’s real anger and very red faces amongst Labour leaders in Cardiff Bay and some backbench AMs in Cardiff Bay following Peter Hain’s latest intervention.

It started when the Shadow Welsh Secretary responded to comments made by the Deputy First Minister, Ieuan Wyn Jones, about the future of the Wales Office. The Plaid Cymru leader said there should be ‘a mature debate’ about it.

Mr Hain issued a statement saying,

Ieuan Wyn Jones wants a discussion that goes wider than the future of the Wales Office.

I think we need to have a mature debate about the future role of the Welsh Deputy First Minister.

Can you really justify having a Deputy First Minister in an Assembly Cabinet of only nine?

It is difficult, I think, in the long-term to justify having a Deputy First Minister in the Welsh Assembly Government as ineffective as Ieuan Wyn Jones.”

I put those remarks to the Deputy First Minister who brushed them aside saying

Well I don’t think I want to respond to any personal comments like that. I think it is totally inappropriate for me to do so.

But it was the bald statement that the First Minister and leader of Welsh Labour, Carwyn Jones,made immediately afterwards that was most interesting. He said,

I don’t have any ineffective ministers in my Government.

You can’t get much clearer a response than that.  ‘A very public slapdown’ to Peter Hain’ as the Conservative leader Nick Bourne put it later.

But there was more. Carwyn Jones asserted his authority saying,

I am the leader of the Welsh Labour party. It’s my role to speak on behalf of the party.

And it didn’t end there. A Labour party source pointedly told me that Ed Miliband is the UK party leader and Carwyn Jones speaks on matters devolved to Wales before adding,

The future of the Wales office is not a devolved matter.

Some Plaid sources and other commentators have called this a power struggle within Welsh Labour and in one sense it is.

But it’s not a struggle for the top job; rather it’s a fight over the way Labour and Plaid emphasise the difference between themselves ahead of May’s Assembly election.

There are those within Labour who think that, while the One Wales coalition was a necessity, that the relationship between the two parties in Cardiff Bay has become too cosy.

Speaking at their joint press briefing today, Carwyn Jones and Ieuan Wyn Jones both emphasised that they want an orderly separation before May 5th and to avoid personal attacks.

As one Labour backbencher put it to me today, interventions like this don’t help.

It’s connected to another division within Labour that I mentioned in an earlier post at the time of the party’s Llandudno conference and that’s what is considered to be the minimum number of AMs Labour needs after May to avoid going into coalition again.

There’s a strong view amongst some Welsh Labour members that the party should certainly go it alone if it wins 31 seats, but should seriously consider forming a minority government with 30, 29 or even 28 seats.

In my earlier post, I quoted one party figure as saying

Nobody said government should be easy.

But around the Bay I’ve heard said repeatedly – and I’ve heard it again today – that 31 is too few to form a stable majority government.

A backbencher told me today they remembered with horror the last time Labour governed alone with 30 AMs:

You can’t be ill, ministers can’t go on visits, there’s no slack.

A minister told me that a coalition with 31 seats would be ‘a hard sell’ to the party but there’s no doubt there’s a significant number within Labour who’d prefer a large majority coalition, One Wales II in other words.

But there’s just as significant a number who want that to be the very last resort.

There’s a clear difference here and it’s not – in public at least – between the two parties.

As one Plaid source said to me, ‘it’s ironic: everyone was thinking there’d be increasing strains within the coalition. It seems the strains are appearing elsewhere.’

 

UPDATE 16:55 Carwyn Jones and Peter Hain have now issued a joint statement setting out what they CAN agree on.  Here it is:

The blunt truth is that although there are four parties in Welsh politics, there are only two futures for Wales. A country that is fair and equal with Labour, or a Wales that faces death by a thousand Conservative and Lib Dem cuts.

People in Wales understand that this is the real choice in this election. They want to hear about our plans to provide jobs for young people, to protect policing in Wales from Tory cuts and to improve the NHS. This is what we are focusing on and will continue to focus on until May 5th.

We are committed to protection of Welsh representation in both Government and Parliament at Westminster. Especially at a time when Wales is under greater attack than ever before this is vital.

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