Welsh Assembly

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Sunday, 8 May 2011

Where now for devolved Labour?


Where now for Devolved Labour?

Devolution has changed the fortunes of the Labour party dramatically in the past decade. As the party that brought devolution into being and started the ball rolling, it's time to look back and reflect on the party's role within the devolved nations and renew. 

Scotland and Wales are maturing as political entities and the fortunes of the Labour party are no longer tied to a national consensus. The most striking evidence for this is Labour's ultimately successful campaign in Wales and its disastrous defeat in Scotland. So why has this happened and where do we go from here?

Firstly, why has this happened?

Personalities

The New King of Scotland?
Well there are a number of reasons why in Wales and Scotland voters have chosen such radically different paths. But the most obvious one, is personalities. Alex Salmond has long been viewed as a shrewd politician and a veritable vote winner. On the other hand Plaid's Ieuan Wyn Jones has been an effective minister but has lacked the wider appeal of Salmond. But to focus on the opposition personalities is to deny Labour's shortcomings.

Carwyn Jones has followed in the footsteps of Rhodri Morgan, who is frequently referred to as the "father of the Nation" and is symbolic for defining the embryonic days of Welsh devolution. Carwyn has stepped into his shoes well, taking the Labour leadership comfortably and continuing the Welsh brand of Labour (more on this later). He has also been allowed a platform in the referendum on March the 3rd that gave him the opportunity to lead and the result gave him some of the appeal that Rhodri had in becoming Wales' flag bearer. Thus, when the Welsh voter came to think of who best would serve Wales, Carwyn was the obvious choice. 

Scottish Labour on the other hand has seen something of a brain drain. Its most prominent figures traditionally have gone to Westminster to represent Scotland in London rather than to represent Labour in Scotland. This is in stark contrast to Labour in Wales where many leading lights (Rhodri Morgan, Ron Davies (now Plaid), Alun Michael, and now Carwyn Jones) have seen the Assembly as a place where they can make a difference. This is likely to increase as a result of the constituency reduction planned by David Cameron and his pals the Lib Dems. Scottish Labour has been seen as complacent (even if that isn't the case) and that is never a vote winner. 

Following in Rhodri's footsteps?
Policy

The second most obvious difference is Welsh Labour's distinctive agenda. It is true that in Wales the print media is very weak and this in general serves to limit real debate, however this has also made Wales unappealing to the Fleet Street papers, letting significant policy diversion get in under the radar. Rhodri Morgan, following New Labour's Third Way Agenda, sought to create what he labelled 'clear red water'. This was a rejection of both old and new labour, and the creation of a Welsh social democratic philosophy (much of which has been picked up by other parts of the UK; Bus passes, Prescriptions etc). This is fundamental in understanding the difference between Scotland and Wales...

In Scotland, the Conservative cuts have been answered by the SNP's use of social democratic policies of a similar nature to Wales, which have proved popular. Therefore when the time came to decide who was best positioned to "Stand up for Scotland" the obvious choice was the SNP, especially for disgruntled Liberal Democrat voters who leaned more to the Left. This is a radical departure for Scottish politics, but not something entirely surprising. Labour simply failed to take on the SNP on its own centre-left ground, and frequently let tribal politics get in the way of policies that are genuinely progressive and radical. Welsh Labour’s attempt to reconcile the New Labour agenda with its core support whilst still being able to attract Lib Dem supporters who might otherwise have voted Plaid Cymru.

The Constitution

The ultimate elephant in the room for Labour across the whole of the UK is the constitution. When the policy was accepted and given a mandate by the people of the devolved nations in 1997, little thought was given to the end game. Devolution it was said, is a process not an event. If so, then where is the process going? The SNP have consistently outflanked Scottish Labour on constitutional issues, driving the agenda and forcing concessions (Scotland Bill) begrudgingly from the unionist parties. As a result of this, many in Scottish Labour view the SNP as their arch-enemy, and allow tribal politics to dictate what decisions they make. Out-doing the SNP has become more important than radical, progressive politics that the Labour party was originally founded for.

Father of the Nation
Contrast this with Wales, where the most recent constitutional development has been driven by Carwyn Jones and Welsh Labour, with the effect of disarming Plaid Cymru and allowing swing voters in potentially Labour/Plaid Cymru seats (Llanelli for example) to feel safe voting Labour to stand up for Wales, which certainly was not the case in Scotland. This is largely due to Welsh Labour becoming increasingly small ‘n’ nationalist, with many in the party (including the First Minister and many of his closest colleagues) feeling instinctively comfortable governing with Plaid Cymru in coalition (indeed Owen Smith as recently as yesterday is quoted saying "We’ve worked well and happily with Plaid over the past four years. It’s perfectly possible we could go down that road again").Ultimately the clear red water agenda has proved popular and in the 2011 election under Carwyn Jones, successful.

So Where Next for Devolved Labour?

In both Wales and Scotland there is an onus now on being bold. Welsh Labour has the ball very much in its court. It should be focusing on transforming Wales into the progressive country it wants to be, and should not be over cautious in seeking further constitutional concessions from the UK government in order to put these ideas into effect. The people of Wales have invested a great deal in a Welsh Labour government and under the AMS electoral system they could quite easily punish Labour for not providing results next time around.

In Scotland, Labour must regroup and rediscover their raison d’ĂȘtre. A bold alternative philosophy for Scotland’s future would be required to challenge Salmond for the monopoly on good ideas. Younger politicians must also be encouraged to find their feet in the Scottish Parliament to benefit Scotland, rather than focus on Westminster as the route to success.

Prescription

UK wide, there must be a willingness to confront the constitutional issues and move towards creating a federal party. A centralised approach to decision making within the party will not fit in a decentralised and devolved world. Labour in Wales and Scotland cannot become mirrors of UK policy that could have been, if not for the election defeat in 2010. They must seize the initiative and create innovative policies for Welsh/Scottish problems. Simply giving devolved leaders a seat on the NEC is not enough; there must be recognition of the multi-nation nature of the UK state and Peter Hain’s “Refounding Labour” provides a fantastic opportunity for ambitious party reform to achieve this.



Written By
Josh Miles
@josh_milo
Josh_miles@hotmail.co.uk

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Peter Hain- Nelson Mandela, anti-apartheid and Labour principles


On Thursday evening, Peter Hain (previous Secretary for Wales) came to Transport House to give a talk about Nelson Mandela and the Anti-Apartheid campaign.

When I read the title of the talk Peter Hain was giving, I was not really able to see the link between the two. As much as I am ashamed to admit it, I didn’t know much about Hain, but I couldn’t quite see the link between Welsh Secretary and Mandela. It was good thing then that Peter Hain began his talk by answering that very query. “Where do I fit in?” he asked, rhetorically.

Well, Hain was born and brought up in South Africa. His parents were devoted anti-apartheid protestors. He remembers being woken up in the middle of the night when he was only 11 to be told that his parents had been arrested, and he was left to look after his younger siblings. This was not the only time, the police often raided their house and searched his room for any hint of political activity. His mother and father both received banning orders, meaning that they were not allowed to attend any social gatherings, which was defined as you and another person. They were the first married couple to both receive a banning order, so they had to be given special allowance so that they could both live together. Part of the banning order was that you were unable to move or travel out of the area without permission. The police prevented Hain’s father from being able to work in the area, and because of this, his family were forced into exile and moved to London.

Being so involved in the anti-apartheid campaign through his family, meant that Hain, obviously, had a keen interest in continuing to campaign during his teenage years. It was Hain who first thought to use sport in the campaign. At the time, the Springbox was an emblem of white supremacy, so Hain, and his fellow protestors, followed the Springbox tour, bought tickets to the matches and raided the pitch. Hain only believed in peaceful protest so he only ever intended to stop play and sat peacefully on the pitch. As with recent protests, the peaceful protests were sometimes hijacked, which came to cause Hain big difficulties (I’ll explain later), so when he talks about protest, Hain is speaking from experience. When Hain met Mandela in 1991, during his trip to Westminster. Mandela talked with him about his time in prison, he was not allowed to be told or read about current affairs or politics but the prison guards were Springbox fans. Mandela and the other prisoners heard about the protests because the guards were so annoyed about the stops to play. Unknowingly, the prison guards gave hope to the prisoners, the protests at the rugby were the only news of the campaign which he heard during his whole imprisonment.

From the rugby onwards, South Africa was banned from cricket, and then the Olympics and onwards. Sport played a key role in the anti-apartheid campaign.

Hain’s political involvement did not come without risk though. He was sent a letter bomb by the South African police. Many, many protestors were killed by the police through letter bombs, Hain was lucky that his bomb had a technical fault which prevented it from going off. He also was tried in the High Court for his involvement in the sport protests. As part of the charges, Hain was accused of putting tin pins on the pitch, which he hadn’t. He had to track down the person who had put the pins down, and they gave a witness report that Hain hadn’t been involved in that part of the protest. This was a scary time for Hain, the judge clearly wanted to prosecute and imprison him, but he was lucky because two members of the jury were from ethnic minorities and refused to find him guilty. After a painfully four week long trial, he was eventually acquitted. This is a side of Peter Hain which I never knew existed, it’s comforting, and even inspiring, to know that members of the party, and of Parliament have taken great personal risks to campaign against injustice and for the rights of others.

On the flip side, it is also quite alarming to know that there are current members of the Tory party who saw Mandela as a terrorist and campaigned for his hanging. The only name which Hain would divulge was John Bercow, the current Speaker of the House. Bercow, however, now bitterly regrets, and is ashamed of his protest to hang Mandela. Unfortunately, others have not repented.

Hain finished his talk by reminding the audience that the Labour party has always been a part of grass root movements, fighting against injustice and for the rights of others. Knowing how big an affect the protests, of which he were apart, had, he clearly believes in protest, and grass root movements. It’s something that most students are either cynical or do not think of at all, but maybe Hain might stir us up. Hopefully it will provide inspiration for students, and especially Labour students, to do all we can to fight against the injustice which surrounds us.

Peter Hain has written a biography of Nelson Mandela. The current biographies are quite long so Hain wanted there to be something a bit more readable. The book rrps at £12.99, but can be bought for £6.99 from your Labour club.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Assembly Elections 2011

On the 5th of May, the Welsh Assembly elections will take place, anyone living in Wales will have the opportunity to vote for their AM. Currently there is a Plaid Cymru and Labour coalition government. The Welsh Assembly is able to make laws in Wales, in twenty broad areas, such as health, education, transport, environment and tourism. This has meant that the Welsh Assembly has been able to ease the burden of the Westminster’s government cuts, which are hitting Wales hardest. Wales is the poorest nation in the UK so a different approach to welfare is needed.

The Assembly does also play a big role in the industry in Wales too- it played a big part in attracting the insurance company Admiral to Cardiff which has created thousands of jobs. The Welsh Assembly has achieved much, although it was only created in 1997, and has only recently been awarded law making powers, but it can achieve so much more in the next four years if Labour achieve a majority.

A Labour Welsh government would mean:

  1. More apprenticeships and training opportunities for young people, who currently are the age bracket with highest unemployment rat
  2. Access to GP surgeries in the evenings and on Saturdays
  3. More funding for our schools
  4. An extra 500 Police Community Safety Officers (PCSOs) for safer communities
  5.  Double the number of children benefitting from free childcare and health visiting

Labour must stay in power in the Assembly to protect:

  1. Free prescriptions to help hard-working families and encourage people back to work.
  2. Free bus travel for pensioners and disabled people and their carers
  3. Free school breakfasts and school milk for the under 7s, a scheme which has proved to be very successful
  4. Support for Welsh students so they will not have to pay higher tuition fees
  5. Help for people who have been made redundant – building on the successful ReAct programme

If you are unable to be in Wales on the 5th May, the elections take place during university spring breaks, you can apply for a postal vote by contacting:

Electoral Registration
Civic Centre
EBBW VALE
NP23 6XB


Telephone: (01495) 355086/355088
Fax: 01495 357789
Opening hours: Monday to Friday  9am to 5pm

- Katie Hannah Bennett

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Local Legend

The following interview was actually for an assignment (I’m a final year Journalism student at Cardiff University). It’s with Julie Morgan, who is currently Labour’s candidate for Cardiff North for the Welsh Assembly elections.
The interview is written as a magazine feature, so please excuse the cheese.
Exploring the person behind the politics: Katie Murdoch chats to Cardiff’s local politician, activist and mother, Julie Morgan.
Sitting in former MP Julie Morgan’s cosy office, it is clear to see how well-respected she still is by the local people as they come in asking for her advice on various issues.
A passionate defender of the community, Julie, 66, attributes her longstanding enthusiasm in political activism to her mother. “She was a single parent and always fought to give me the best possible upbringing. She worked in Ely Hospital looking after disabled children and always stood up for the underdog.” Smiling as she speaks, it’s clear that Julie speaks about her mother with visible pride.
Before her career in politics, Julie had studied English at King’s College London, later becoming a social worker with Barry Social Services. She accredits her social work for helping her realise that she wanted to support people on a wider scale. “I felt that I could help people through social work, or try going into politics and do it perhaps to a greater degree.”
She notes how difficult it was then, and still is today, for women to break into jobs in politics and other high-power professions. “We have plenty of strong and very capable women and minorities who want these jobs, but there are still very obvious problems within organisations that make it very difficult for them.” She speaks about her own experience of standing for council in Cardiff and being confronted by discrimination, with people questioning her capability of having a job in politics and managing a family. 
When asked how she did balance working in parliament with her home life during the 13 years she was an MP, she replies “It was actually more difficult looking after my mother than my children, who were grown up by the time I won the seat in Cardiff North.” She continues that her mother had become very disabled in her final years and needed a lot of carers throughout the day. “It was like managing a small business from London, which I found very tough, I felt very guilty that I couldn’t be there for her more.”
In last year’s general election Julie lost her seat to Conservative Party candidate Jonathan Evans. “It was a really sad moment after 13 years of serving Cardiff North, but I was expected to lose by a lot more than the 194 votes, considering the national result.” The hardest part of losing was making two employees and friends redundant she says sincerely, “they had worked hard even out of their office hours knocking doors and rallying support, I felt awful that I had to let them go.” 
Julie’s currently campaigning to become Cardiff North’s Welsh Assembly Member in May’s elections, but when she has more time to herself she and her husband, former First Minister Rhodri Morgan, enjoy staying in their caravan in West Wales and swimming in the sea, “it’s incredibly relaxing and enjoyable in the summer” she says, smiling warmly.


-Katie

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Kim's Out of Date

SIR – While I enjoyed watching Kim Howells air his views, and I admire what he has given to Britain and the way he speaks his mind, I must say I think his views on devolution are out of date (“‘Daft’ to give more powers”, Nov 27) . 

As part of the generation that has grown up with a Welsh Assembly, and the impact that it makes on our day to day lives I can assure him and your readers that the Welsh Assembly is a force for good. 

The battle over whether Wales, like Scotland, should have some form of self governance has long been won, and the younger generation, and many others, would find it insulting for this to be taken away. At a time when free market economics and de-industrialisation is shaping so much in Welsh society, the Assembly can provide that vital Welsh perspective to understand the chronic problems we face. 

As the voting Welsh public has accepted devolution, we must now look towards fine-tuning it and making it the ultimate force for good it can be. 

The present system forces lengthy delays in legislating and is significantly watered down. A Yes vote in the referendum will make the Assembly more effective and accountable, and will ultimately save us money. In his programme, he states that the political elite in Wales are self serving and insular; as a man who spent much of his life living and working in Westminster, he must surely realise that there is no more insular place than the Westminster village. 

The days of debating the Assembly are gone. I would urge Kim Howells to help us shape the Assembly and its purpose as a younger Labour Party member and activist. A Yes vote in March will be the first step to a better future for Wales. 

JOSH MILES 
Secretary, Cardiff Labour Students 

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Wales: last on the Coalition's list.



I was scared this May when a coalition between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservative Party was declared. I knew that the next few years, at least, would be harsh and bleak. I knew that the Tories, albeit with a weak mandate, would use the deficit to justify the cuts they had been itching to make. Neil Kinnock's words echoed in my ears. 


I hoped that living in Wales, where the Assembly is Labour controlled, would provide a balustrade against the cuts. In Wales, Labour still had a mandate to govern. We lost Cardiff North by just 194 votes but the Tories were expecting to win by thousands, and the results wiped the smirks off their faces. We kept  Swansea West in the face of stiff competition from the Liberal Democrats and we won back the iconic seat of Blaenau Gwent from an Independent. 

Within weeks it became clear that the new government were not interested in Wales and it seems to some that they are deliberately hostile. Our budget fell by £162.5m in May. This was despite the conclusion of the independent Holtham Commission, that Wales is underfunded by £300m a year. The cuts are a third more than the UK average.

This autumn the Conservative controlled government seem to aim more punitive measures at Wales.

First, at the beginning of October the coalition announced that the passport office in Newport was due to close. As it happens, I was being interviewed for a job that day by Paul Flynn, MP for Newport West. He had heard the news an hour or so before it was released to the press, and he spoke emotively to me of the impact that losing 300 good jobs could have in the working class town of Newport. The passport office has been there for over forty years and is the only passport office in Wales. 

New blows would come in November. On the 23rd of November the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, visited Cardiff and made the statement that there would be no change to the Barnett formula until the economic crisis is "resolved".


The Barnett formula is the formula from which the money allocated to Wales is decided. Last year Health Minister Edwina Hart memorably declared that "Barnett is bust", as Wales is said to be chronically underfunded.  Despite the fact that funding for education is £500 a child less than England and that Wales has some of the most deprived communities in the UK, the Coalition still seemed to have Wales last on the list.


On the 25th November the UK Transport Minister Philip Hammond scrapped the electrification of the railway line from London to Cardiff and Swansea. The government is continuing to invest £8bn on railways across the country but Wales is missing out. Aside from the unfairness of this, I am fearful of the result this will have on jobs and trade in Wales compared to areas where the railways have been electrified. 


Paul Flynn MP made a statement that along with the closure of the Newport Passport Office, changes to the way S4C is funded and the cancellation of the RAF St Athan project as policies instituted by the UK government that have hurt Wales.


Ministers in the Labour led government in the Senedd last week released the draft of the Welsh budget, doing what they can with the money given from Westminster. Although a lot of commentators have compared it to the release of the Scottish budget, Wales is operating with half of the funding of Scotland and does not have tax varying powers. Wales also chose to plan for the long term, while the Scottish budget only covers up until 2012. 


The Welsh budget was announced by Business and Budget Minister Jane Hutt, and I was relieved to see that it seemed to take a much more fair approach than the Westminster budget. Yvette Cooper has launched a well aimed and bruising attack on the Westminster budget, pointing out how it makes scapegoats of the most vulnerable in society, particularly women. 


Jane Hutt has stepped away from this, retaining and introducing a number of progressive measures. Flagship Assembly policies such as free bus passes, free prescriptions and free hospital car parks have been retained. The EMA that has been controversially scrapped in England will be reinstituted in Wales. This year the Assembly launched a 4.4.m, six year initiative called "Right to be Safe", targeting domestic abuse and they have announced they will not be scrapping this measure. This is an extremely positive measure, especially as incidents of domestic violence tend to rise when the economy is poor. 


The Special Policy Conference held last weekend in Cardiff also established the fact that the Welsh Labour Party is committed to continuing this after the elections in May 2011. A new initiative to help older people to pay for care is in the pipeline. Carwyn Jones also added that, "The people of Wales can be sure of one thing – we will do  everything we can to protect our public services, the vulnerable and the fragile economic recovery, despite the hand we have been ‘dealt’." 


The public seem to be approving of the message that Welsh Labour is sending out. On 25th November an ITV poll placed support for Labour at 44%. Welsh Labour has six months to maintain and improve that result before the Assembly Elections. With some really excellent and high profile candidates such as Julie Morgan and a far more fair and progressive budget that Westminster, that is definitely something we can achieve.