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Posts Tagged ‘Plaid Cymru’

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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Plaid Cymru has today set out some of what it wants from Carwyn Jones if he wants the party’s support in avoiding stalemate in the Assembly.

AMs Elin Jones and Simon Thomas said Plaid wants the First Minister to publish a programme of government for the entire five-year term; an early indication of his likely budget priorities and to see how the legacy of the last government will be continued by this government.

Surely, I asked Simon Thomas, governments only publish programmes when, as happened with the One Wales coalition, they need to formalise agreements with other parties?

Not at all, he told me. Governments in fixed term parliaments often publish such programmes and in this case, it would give the other parties chance to debate the different plans on which Labour would be seeking co-operation.

On leadership matters, both Simon Thomas and Elin Jones agree that the timetable is up to the current leader Ieuan Wyn Jones who’s said he’ll step down sometime within the next two and a half years.

He’s said to prefer to go sooner rather than later but wants to oversee Plaid’s review into what went wrong at the election.

Simon Thomas said today that that review is due to last ‘well into next year’ and that Ieuan Wyn Jones should remain in post to lead it.

So I asked him if that meant there wouldn’t be a leadership contest this year.

‘There doesn’t need to be one,’ he said. ‘But it’s up to Ieuan Wyn Jones.’

When there’s a vacancy, will he be amongst the candidates? ‘When the time comes, I’ll say.’

Elin Jones meanwhile reiterated her position that she’ll ‘seriously consider it’ when the time comes.

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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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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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From partner to passenger. That’s what Plaid leader Ieuan Wyn Jones became in the words of Welsh Labour spokespeople today.

Mr Jones has been Economic Development minister as well as Deputy First Minister for the last four years of coalition government in Cardiff Bay.

And when asked to list his achievements, he frequently points to the ProAct and ReAct schemes to help businesses cope with the economic crisis.

But Labour said today he shouldn’t. The party’s Vaughan Gething said that both schemes were ‘driven through by Labour ministers from inception’ and that the former First Minister Rhodri Morgan ensured that responsibilities for delivering the schemes remained with Labour ministers.

I asked him for clarity. Was he saying that Plaid ministers, and in particular the  Plaid minister responsible for economic matters, had nothing to do with ProAct and ReAct

Ieuan Wyn Jones was in the room. He took part in the summits, but there clearly Welsh Labour leadership. Plaid trying to claim credit for ProAct and ReAct is like a bus passenger claiming credit for driving the bus.

Plaid won’t take this lying down. A spokesman said it was simply wrong to claim anything other than that Mr Jones and his department were right at the heart of both schemes.

Plaid acknowledges that both parties were jointly responsible for delivering both schemes.

But the spokesman said that  Ieuan Wyn Jones not only delivered them but ‘drove them from the start.’

UPDATE 1355 I’ve just had a formal response from Plaid:

Labour is now reduced to making ridiculous claims about Plaid’s record in government in order to avoid talking about their record of failure over the past 12 years. Wales’ children are being left behind due to Labour’s mismanagement of our education system. We can’t afford 5 more years of Labour failure.

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There’ll be a manifesto a day this week and Plaid Cymru is the first party to unveil its pledges.  I’m not going to summarise it – you can read the full manifesto here. I’m halfway through it; we can compare notes when we’ve both finished.

Just a few side notes to report. Every time Plaid launches a manifesto, its opponents want to see how much importance is given to the question of independence, which other parties believe is Plaid’s weak point.

Over many years Plaid has dealt with this by effectively sidelining independence as a long-term pledge and that stance is given its clearest expression yet in this manifesto saying that,

… we remain committed to an indpendent Wales as a full member of the European Union. We understand that this longer-term constitutional step is a decision that will rest ultimately in the hands of the people of Wales.

In this Assembly term we believe that the priorities of our citizens will be better served by devolving a number of services to the National Assembly and reforming the way Wales is funded by the UK Treasury.

It’s a stance that has led some to question what the point of Plaid is now that Wales has a stronger Assembly. In response, Plaid lists a series of next steps: the devolution of policing, broadcasting and natural resources.

I was told not to see the headline pledges unveiled today as the core promises that Plaid would use as a negotiating base in any coalition talks.  It’s hard not to take them as otherwise following the prominence they’ve been given.

There were no hints about potential coalition options at today’s launch by the way.  My sense is that most would prefer another link-up with Labour but party strategists want to keep their options open.

Labour’s response was interesting: accusing Plaid of becoming ‘obsessional’ with its former coalition partner. But then there was this:

Actually, Plaid’s manifesto contains many ideas that we broadly welcome, indeed who wouldn’t support the idea that we want more jobs, quicker broadband and more effective healthcare?

An early hand of friendship? Or, given that it’s followed by a warning against going into coalition with the Conservatives, an attempt to encourage a split in Plaid’s ranks?

Tomorrow it’s the turn of the Welsh Liberal Democrats to publish their manifesto.

A quick reminder before I go that tonight’s Wales Decides 2011 programme focusses on education. Our Education Correspondent Joanna Simpson looks at how it’s shot up the political agenda. You can see the programme at 2235, ITV1 Wales.

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