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Archive for the ‘Welsh Liberal Democrats’ 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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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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Day Two of manifesto week sees the Welsh Liberal Democrats set out their election promises.

You can read the manifesto, which they’ve called ‘Wales Can Do Better’,  here.

It’s main theme is tackling waste: money-wasting, time-wasting and wasting of the potential of people.

That’s why the very first pledge you read is to

Root out Government waste so that the money we do spend makes a real difference to you and your family.

As well as giving the Welsh Lib Dems a means of attacking Labour and Plaid’s record in government in Cardiff Bay over the last four years, highlighting waste serves another useful purpose.

It allows the Welsh Lib Dems to sidetrack the argument over whether or not the UK coalition is cutting spending too fast or not.

And that’s important because Kirsty Williams’ team would be in a no-win situation if they did get involved in the row.

If they argued that Wales needs more money spent on it, they would be accused of being at odds with Nick Clegg’s team in London.

But on the other hand they know that their poor showing in the polls stems from people who may have voted Lib Dem in recent years but who do think that cuts ARE too fast and too deep.

So the focus of waste and inefficiency allows the Welsh Lib Dems to blame Labour for creating both the need for spending cuts at a UK level and for spending unwisely here in Wales.

At the same time they can include Plaid in that criticism and set out a series of ideas that they believe can be funded by freeing up money that’s been misspent in the past.

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