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Posts Tagged ‘Peter Hain MP’

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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This weekend has seen yet another series of pronouncements from journalists and politicians on the future of the Liberal Democrats as an independent party. Here’s a round-up:

Labour leader Ed Miliband is appealing to disaffected Lib Dem supporters, an appeal that follows one earlier this week by the First Minister Carwyn Jones , urging Lib Dems to ‘come home’ to Labour. And the week before, unveiling a Welsh Lib Dem councillor who was defecting to Labour, Shadow Welsh Secretary Peter Hain said there was ‘an open door’ to party members who felt betrayed by their party leaders.

In this week’s Spectator, James Forsyth reckons that UK politics is returning to a two-party model, arguing that the very construction of the House of Commons chamber makes it almost inevitable. In the same magazine Nick Cohen claims that ‘the two-party system is beginning to reassert itself.’

Forsyth’s prediction goes something like this. The party’s right-wing, sometimes known as Orange-Bookers,  are ‘the political descendants of the Peelites’ and no longer hostile to David Cameron’s socially liberal Conservative party. Forsyth says it’s easy to see these ‘modern-day Peelites’ returning to the Tory fold.

Social Democrat Lib Dems, Forsyth claims, will head back to the Labour party, like the Welsh defector John Warman I mentioned earlier. It might also mean something that there are reports that the former SDP leader David Owen has been in contact with Ed Miliband.

Meanwhile there was a heated discussion on this morning’s Week in Westminster programme on Radio 4 between Conservative MP Mark Pritchard and the Liberal Democrat MP Chris Davies about allegations that the Conservatives had held back in the Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election to give their coalition partners a better chance of winning.

Mark Pritchard said that he was in favour of such arrangements between the two parties in Westminster by-elections although only for as long as the coalition lasts and not in Welsh Assembly or Scottish Parliament elections.

Chris Davies rejected that out of hand. If Lib Dem leaders even talked about making that sort of agreement, he said, it would ‘split the party.’

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Women in Wales will be hit harder by the UK Government’s planned public spending cuts than men, according to the Shadow Welsh Secretary Peter Hain.

During Welsh Questions in the Commons, he made that point and asked the Welsh Secretary “as the first woman Secretary of State” if she was proud of the Westminster coalition’s attitude to women.

In response, Cheryl Gillan said the government had considered all possible impacts on women and pointed out that the number of job losses forecast has decreased.

Ms Gillan also had some interesting news for constitution-watchers.

She told MPs that the Wales Office is preparing for life after next year’s Assembly powers referendum.

If the vote is yes, she said, then there will automatically be a changed relationship between Westminster and Wales.

But if the vote is no, the UK government will still examine how to make the current system of transferring powers to Cardiff Bay more efficient.

In other words, there’ll be change to the much-criticised LCO sytem, regardless which way you vote.

You might think that saying that will strengthen the No campaign’s argument that the current system – with a bit of tidying up – is strong enough.

But it might also bolster the Yes campaigners trying to counter the claim that the referendum is the thin end of an independence wedge.

One other point to remark on from Welsh Questions. When the Welsh Office Minister David Jones took a question from his opposite number Owen Smith, he congratulated the Pontypridd MP for winning the member to watch category in this week’s Welsh Political Awards.

And he added, “Can I reassure him that I am watching him.”

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