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Posts Tagged ‘Welsh politics’

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know my sob story about spending the best part of an hour of my train journey home from London last night, writing a long blogpost about yesterday’s exceptionally busy Welsh day in Westminster, only to have the WordPress app on my iphone crash and I lost it all.

I know, I know: I should have pressed save a few times along the way. In the time-honoured words used after every review into every failing: Lessons Have Been Learned. Probably.

Anyway, because you’ll never know otherwise, I can now claim it to be a lost classic. It would have had everything: pathos, romance, danger, action, betrayal.

Actually, it would have told you about the meeting of First Ministers and their Deputies at the Joint Ministerial Committee (tense); Welsh Questions (tense, angry); Prime Minister’s Questions (high-minded for a change, MPs restless, congratulations and laughter for Elfyn Llwyd’s elevation to the Privy Council); debates on alcohol pricing and the future of coastguards and the semi-snubbing of Paul Murphy and Elfyn Llwyd’s bid for a Welsh-day debate on plans to cut the number of MPs (on the shelf).

You’ll just have to take my word for it: a classic lost to posterity like the supposed missing bits of Coleridge’s Kubla Khan. Only about Welsh politics.

Luckily, my fellow political journalists David Williamson of the Western Mail and David Cornock of the BBC have recorded their versions of yesterday’s events so that you can get the details from them.

They’re both very good accounts, but obviously not as good as my lost blogpost would have been.

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It was more about attack than defence when Swansea East MP Sian James led a debate in the House of Commons today focussing on the future of defence training in St. Athan in the Vale of Glamorgan.

Since the £14bn scheme to set up a training academy for all three forces at the former RAF base was scrapped in October it’s become one of the pieces of evidence that Labour and Plaid Cymru politicians point to as proof of the “contempt” they claim the UK government shows towards Wales.

Supporters of the Westminster coalition, however,  have repeatedly said St Athan is still in the running even though the scheme as planned has been scrapped.

Which is why today’s debate was a chance to try to get some clarity on exactly how St Athan is still in the running.

Answering for the government, Defence Minister Andrew Robathan said the previous government’s plan was simply unaffordable.

But he said the MoD still thinks bringing training together is a good idea and that St Athan is one of the sites being considered as part of a review.

He couldn’t say when that review would end other than to say it would be within the next few months.

I don’t like using military metaphors if I can help it but it seems unavoidable given the way the debate turned out.

Mr Robathan, who has an army background, battled through a barrage of mockery from Labour MPs when he denied the government was anti-Welsh because his great-grandfather was from Risca and his grandfather from Llandaff.

He said he was surprised by “how extraordinarily narrow and partisan” his first Welsh debate was.

And the non-Welsh MPs  who were members of the defence select committee drafted in to bump up the numbers on the government side were also taken aback by the heckling, barracking and repeated calls for interventions coming from the Labour benches.

“Government ringers” was Blaenau Gwent MP Nick Smith’s repeated accusation to the English MPs.

This approach will be no surprise to aficionados of recent Welsh Grand Committee meetings.

But one of the Labour MPs I spoke to afterwards quietly wondered if it’s the right approach and whether or not the “oppositional” attack technique took up too much time and, in so doing, let the minister off the hook.

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It’s the last Sharp End of the year tonight and we have plenty to talk about after another busy week in Welsh politics. At the beginning of the week, the Conservative Shadow Health minister, Andrew RT Davies, surprised everyone in Cardiff Bay by quitting his front bench job.  His move sparked a whirl of speculation about what his real reasons might be. I’ve interviewed him for tonight’s programme – some of his answers are, I think, rather revealing.

My guests in the studio are Katie Dalton, President of NUS Cymru, who will have plenty to say about the Assembly Government’s decision to keep tuition fees down and the business expert and entrepreneur, Professor Brian Morgan.

Lynne Courteney has been going through the political Christmas cards collected by the former Labour MP, Llew Smith.

And our political commentator Gareth Hughes will bring us the latest whispers that’s he’s picked up along the way. It’s Gareth’s last Sharp End. After 10 years of wryly observing Welsh politics and breaking a lot of stories, he’s moving on to pastures new. We’ll miss him but something tells me he’ll still be making mischief in Cardiff Bay.

Join us for Sharp End just after 11pm ITV1 Wales.

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I know you’ve been on tenterhooks to find out what the Welsh Affairs Select Committee has said since I trailed its report last night.  MPs on the committee have been working out what extra powers the Assembly has gained since 2006 when the last big change to the constitutional set-up came in the Government of Wales Act. They think fellow MPs should know exactly what powers they’re offering to give away to Cardiff Bay.

Their answer? A lot. In fact, whilst steadfastly refusing to make a judgement on the merits or otherwise of a Yes vote, the committee says that the end result of the referendum process could mean “significantly enlarging the legislative competence of the National Assembly.”

All of this is by way of an overture to a big week in Parliament for the referendum. MPs vote on the various technical orders making a referendum possible tomorrow and Wednesday. The Lords do the same on Thursday. And if both houses say yes, then the last person to have their say-so is the Queen who’s expected to make her decision in the next Privy council meeting which is thought to take place mid-December.

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You may wish to familiarise yourself with Schedule 7 of the Government of Wales Act 2006 although I’m sure it’s already burned in your memory. Just in case it isn’t though, let me remind you: this is the bit of the Act that sets out exactly what the Assembly is responsible for. It defines the boundaries between Cardiff Bay and Westminster. The UK Government reckons it needs updating before next year’s referendum so that Parliament knows which powers it’s handing over. So does the Welsh Affairs Select Committee which is publishing it’s report today (Monday). It’s not going to set your world on fire, but it is an important part of the sizeable change we’ll be asked to endorse or deny in just a few months’ time. I’ll update you when it’s published.

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This morning’s Telegraph has further details on claims that the Welsh Secretary Cheryl Gillan would be willing to resign over plans to build a high-speed rail link through her Buckinghamshire constituency. She’s quoted as telling Andrew Gilligan, “I would defy the party whip – be very, very sure of that. My constituency comes first in all instances. The impact on the whole area would be absolutely phenomenal.”

Gilligan explains how this becomes a resigning matter:

“For a minister or whip to break party discipline and vote against the Government is automatically a resigning matter. The three MPs are understood to hope that it will not come to that and are lobbying colleagues to change their minds. Sources close to Miss Gillan said the Prime Minister had stressed that the precise route had yet to be fixed.”

Expect Cheryl Gillan’s political opponents to use this row to call for her to show similar determination when it comes to another controversial rail project: electrification of the Paddington to Swansea line. According to the IWA’s website, Click on Wales, which quotes Rail Engineer magazine, the official announcement on Tuesday is likely to be that the line will be electrified as far as Cardiff, leaving it up to the Assembly Government to pay for the rest if it wants.

UPDATE: I gather the announcement on electrification won’t be made tomorrow (Tuesday) but is likely to come on Thursday.

UPDATE 2: A source close Cheryl Gillan points out that the only published route so far for the new High Speed rail link was drawn up by the last UK government and Mrs Gillan’s views on that have been made abundantly clear. But the Conservative-Liberal Democrat government has made no such announcement on a preferred route and even when it does there would be a lengthy consultation.

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I won’t even attempt to give you a comprehensive round-up of the Welsh Assembly Government’s Draft Budget: you can get that from Gareth Hughes here. Instead here are a few random notes and snippets from an intense day.

* The fact that the Higher Education budget has been cut by nearly £37bn is surely a sign that higher tuition fees are now inevitable. If so, what sort of level will they be set at? Rumour has it that the plan was to set Welsh tuition fees at somewhere between the current £3k and England’s £9k, maybe at around £5k. Is that still likely or possible?

* Ministers already have a pretty good idea which individual programmes they’ll be cutting; we’ll all know by Christmas.

* Was the reason that Wales hasn’t followed Scotland’s idea of a pay freeze for higher earners in the public sector because all the pay settlements that the Assembly Government can influence have already been agreed meaning a new pay freeze would have affected practically nobody?

* RIP SCIF. I may be the only one who cares about this: the Assembly Government’s SCIF programme is dead and buried. SCIF was a pot of £400m of capital funding available to ‘innovative, cross-cutting and strategic capital projects.’ Amongst these projects were schools in Wrexham, Newport and Blaenavon; a scheme to build 400 affordable homes across Wales; another to transform the Heads of the Valleys into a low carbon region; a pan-Wales network of anaerobic digestors; rail investment, part of the Heads of the Valleys dualling scheme;  flood and coastal defences. Finance minister Jane Hutt said all the projects which had won SCIF funding would continue to be invested in. But the move which would have delivered “a step change in the Assembly Government’s approach to planning and delivering capital investment strategically” is over.

 

 

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