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Posts Tagged ‘Conservatives’

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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The Welsh Conservatives have launched their manifesto today, meaning that all four of the main parties in this election have now laid out their promises for us.

You can read the manifesto in full here.

It’s the smallest of all four manifestos, coming in at just 32 pages but as small books go it has to achieve a great deal.

Not only does it have to appeal to Conservative voters across Wales, many of whom are still sceptical about devolution, but it also has to complete the rebranding that’s gone on over the last ten years which is sometimes half-jokingly referred to as Welshification.

And it also has to appeal to other parties if a rainbow coalition with Plaid and the Liberal Democrats becomes a possibility.

Privately a party source told me that about 90% of the manifesto is true blue Conservative that no Tory anywhere in the UK could really disagree with.

It’s the other 10 per cent that’s much more interesting. This is where you find pledges like the commitment to ‘working towards 1.5 million Welsh speakers by 2015,’ quite a pledge from any party, let alone the Conservatives.

And when it comes to the nation-building ‘wish-list’ there’s a huge amount of reaching out to Plaid in the manifesto, for instance a commitment to fair funding for Wales and a statement that ‘the legal jurisdiction of Wales needs to be made more account and partly accountable to the National Assembly.’

A little book then, but one that could go a long way.

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Labour’s pledge to make it easier for working people to get to see their GPs in the evenings and at weekends means that all four parties have now given us flavours of what they’ll be promising us in the Assembly election which is looming ever closer.

It may not be very popular with GPs but Labour reckons it’ll be a vote-winner amongst busy working people who currently have to take time off in the working week.

I understand the promise will be one of five key pledges that the party will go into the campaign with, and will probably be those listed on a pledge-card which has become a familiar part of election battles.

That also makes it likely to be one of the ‘red line’ policies which would be expected to survive any coalition talks after May 5th.

I doubt the Liberal Democrats’ pledge, also unveiled today, will be one of their top five, but they insist it is an important indication of what they want for Wales.

The party says it will promise to bid for a stage of the Tour de France to be held in Wales.

Pie in the sky? Not at all, according to Veronica German AM. Think back to the idea of Wales hosting the Ashes or the Ryder Cup? Plenty scoffed then, but both events took place and were considered big successes.

Ms German says it’s a matter of being confident about Wales. If London can do it, why not Wales?

I have to share, by the way, the snippet of info from the Lib Dems about Veronica German being a ‘keen cyclist’. She was 1968 Warwick and Leamington Child Cyclist of the Year and tells me she still has the cup to prove it.

Not that she’s pretending to be a competitive cyclist now. On the contrary she says cycling is one of those sports that can appeal to all fitness levels.

Plaid Cymru has already made a number of announcements including the idea of a not-for-profit company to run train services in Wales and a vow to halve illiteracy levels by 2015.

The Conservatives have released more manifesto policies than any of the others, including a Veteran’s Card to give ex-forces people free or priority access to services, the abolition of business rates, direct funding of schools and most famously or notoriously, protection of the health budget.

What does this tell us on this Monday morning in February? It tells us that with just over eleven weeks before we vote and with a referendum on Assembly powers in just over a fortnight, that all four parties are in an advanced state of preparation for the Assembly election.

Expect more to come.

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I’m reading the second volume of Chris Mullin’s diaries. Like the first it contains a lot of nuggets, personal and political.

Like this extremely accurate prediction recorded more than five years ago on Monday 21st November 2005.

Mullins is talking to ‘a Yorkshire MP’ who he quotes as saying:

‘I think we will lose the next election. The Tories will come to some sort of understanding with the Lib Dems and we’ll find that we’ve opened the door to the market in health and education. And when we protest they will reply, “But this is your policy; you started it.”‘

I bet it’s cold comfort to that gloomy Yorkshire Labour MP that he was proven right.

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I’ve spent the day in Westminster where there’s been plenty to occupy Welsh politics watchers.

First up, the unusual sight of a Welsh Conservative MP urging his government to follow the example of the Labour-Plaid Cymru Welsh Assembly Government.

Simon Hart, the MP for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire, led a Westminster Hall debate on the subject of outdoor play.

As a former Chief Executive of the Countryside Alliance, Mr Hart is well-known as a fan of the great outdoors. But the purpose of his debate was to urge the UK Government to build outdoors learning into the National Curriculum in England.

And to that end he praised the Assembly Government’s Foundation Phase for the youngest children which encourages teaching outside the classroom.

Mr Hart told MPs – and the Education Minister who was on hand to reply for the Government – that his own children had benefitted from the foundation phase and “if it’s good enough for the Welsh Assembly then surely it’s good enough for the UK as a whole.”

Later in the day it was another Conservative MP, this time Stratford-upon-Avon’s Nadhim Zahawi who was pushing the case for Wales.

He introduced a Ten Minute Rule bill calling for the introduction of bank holidays in Wales and England to mark St David’s Day and St George’s Day.

Mr Zahawi’s bill says that next year’s one-off Royal Wedding Bank Holiday should be turned into national Saints’ Days holidays from 2012.

It would promote national integration, he said; it would celebrate the best of English and Welsh culture and it would reclaim patriotic symbols from extremist nationalist parties like the BNP.

Unfortunately it’s unlikely to become law despite repeated appearances in Conservative manifestos past. As a government source put it to me today, “It’s not in the coalition agreement.”

The third and final bit of Welsh Westminster action takes place behind closed doors in this afternoon’s meeting of the Privy Council.

Amongst the orders the Queen has on her list to approve are those which make it possible for next year’s referendum on strengthening the powers of the National Assembly to take place.

Assuming she approves it (and you’ll be hearing a lot more about it if she doesn’t), that’ll be it for the parliamentary jiggery-pokery needed to make the referendum happen. Tomorrow marks the official beginning of the referendum period.

March 3rd will be here before you know it.

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The decision of Jenny Willott to resign and join the other two Welsh Liberal Democrat MPs to vote against their government means that the Welsh wing of the party is pretty unified on tuition fees and at odds with the party’s UK leadership. Does that amount to a split ?

The truth is, the Liberal Democrat party is federal which means the Welsh party led by Kirsty Williams is, in theory at least, an autonomous operation making its own policies within the framework of a UK party, even if Welsh members in parliament are expected to toe the UK line.

There have been differences before, most notably over plans for St. Athan. But party leaders and members here, whatever their misgivings, are largely supportive of the Westminster coalition.

And in practice, most people don’t register this federalism business, just as voters, politicians and journalists often fail to grasp the realities of devolution in terms of the difference between UK government and the Assembly government.

And whatever the rights and wrongs of policies, promises and the reality of coalition government, the polls and the protests show that the Lib Dems are taking the worst of the flak on tuition fees, while their Conservative partners aren’t.

As Iain Martin of the Wall Street Journal points out the Lib Dems are perceived as compromising more than the Tories:

“Clegg was prepared to ditch one of his promises to deliver for the coalition on fees but Cameron clings to free TV licences for the over 75s and the winter fuel payment to wealthy pensioners whilst talking constantly about hard choices.”

Nick Clegg is said to be taking the long view, convinced that in time people will see his party’s difficult decisions as being the right ones.

Here in Wales, however, time is a luxury the Liberal Democrats don’t have: the Assembly election is fewer than five months away.

Fair or unfair and regardless of resignations and rebellions, Welsh Lib Dems could suffer from the fallout of tuition fees and other difficult aspects of coalition decision-making.

The other parties are already making the most of the Lib Dem’s discomfort. Plaid Cymru is offering free membership to students whilst Labour is doing the same for £1.

I won’t adapt Labour’s clear red water metaphor, because yellow water conjures up unpleasant images. But the Welsh Lib Dems do need to look at the way that Rhodri Morgan managed to keep Welsh Labour loyal to but different from his UK party if they’re going to avoid a miserable May.

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