Y Barcud Oren #13

No, you’re not dreaming, Y Barcud Oren service is resumed (now that my lecturers have, however briefly, stopped making me write essays on trust law!). And, with 2009 drawing to a close, it’s a good time to check in on how the answers to the year’s great political questions have developed.

Take Me To Your Cliché

2009’s first great saga was Rhodri Morgan’s retirement and, eventually, the race to succeed him. But to say that nothing happened in the Welsh Labour leadership contest would be an insult to quantum mechanics. The three people we expected to run ran, the process was entirely undemocratic (see Alun Michael and his five votes), the ink spilt in vain over the soul of the party (last seen staring out to sea on the prom at Porthcawl circa 1995) was copious, and the favourite won by a country mile.

Still, credit where it’s due, a win on the first ballot of a three-way contest with a clear margin in all three sections of the college is a fair old mandate for doing very little, on the whole, and Carwyn Jones got right on that with his new cabinet. Well I say new; in reality the only casualties were the self-announced ones, particularly Andrew Davies – the Swansea West AM who announced he was standing down in 2011 the moment Carwyn won (the fact that he’d been Edwina Hart’s campaign manager and faces losing his seat to the Lib Dems had nothing to do with it, of course.) Mind you, even Jane Hutt, the equally-soon-to-be-former AM for the Vale of Glamorgan, stayed on, moving to the finance portfolio because, having already wrecked the health service and the schools system, Carwyn clearly figured he might as well let her go for the hat-trick.

Otherwise it was largely as you were; Carwyn’s campaign manager, Leighton Andrews, slotted into Jane’s old spot, the chief whip filled the other vacancy, and everyone else stayed put. That meant that Edwina Hart’s reward for losing was to retain the health portfolio; Huw Lewis, meanwhile, was promoted to deputy minister for, well, being Huw Lewis really …

Pollard’s Way

It was left to Rhodri himself, however, to take delivery of the other great answer of the year. Or not, as the case may be. £1.3 million later, the result of the All-Wales Convention was pretty straightforward … Yes we should have primary law-making powers, yes we should hold a referendum, no we won’t necessarily win it. Given that that was exactly what the Liberal Democrats had been saying for the last two years, that primary law-making powers were patently better and that the campaign to win a referendum should start as soon as possible, you might forgive us for feeling a touch smug.

But there was no time for that as the One Wales government sprung into action to cock things up. It was the red half’s turn to fulfil their mutual incompetence pact, and this they did in their official response to the Convention report. This stated that Welsh Labour’s internal policy process had started to consider the report and would launch a wider consultation within the party after the General Election. Which is fine, except that the Assembly’s Presiding Officer had already stated that a vote on holding a referendum needed to be held as soon as possible in order to meet the Autumn 2010 target date (the alternative being to have the referendum on the Assembly election day in 2011, one issue on which there is at least consensus that it’s a really bad idea). After a day of drama in the Siambr, Rhodri and Ieuan Wyn released a statement of their own to damp down the crisis, but even that rather suggested that the general election campaign would take priority.

And just in case you were feeling a little shaky about Labour’s approach to all matters Welsh, they had another calming voice enter the fray; Peter Hain. The Secretary of State was meant to be announcing a positive government response to the Holtham Commission, which had concluded (like pretty much everyone else) that the Barnett Formula was fundamentally broken. What he actually announced, however, was that the government would take action if Wales were “disproportionately disadvantaged” in the future. The unified roar of “IF?!” nearly took the roof off the Senedd.

And the Academy Award goes to …

Speaking of Secretaries of State, the Conservatives were also grappling with their cabinet identities. The power of the Secretary of State for Wales to veto a referendum has caused plenty of concern whilst wielded by Peter Hain (who while out of office said there shouldn’t be one), but the thought of his successor is even worse. With the Conservatives’ actual Welsh MPs unable to take the job (on the count that all three of them are slightly to the right of Genghis Khan), it seems likely that the role will fall to the current shadow, Cheryl Gillan, who seems to think that being MP for Chesham and Amersham makes her better qualified for the job than an actual Welsh MP. Dave himself tried to calm fears about the impending reign of Governor-General Gillan, pledging in his Broughton Declaration that a Conservative government wouldn’t block a referendum.

As the year came to a close, however, the Tories would take centre stage in the year’s most sensational political moment. Freedom Central had the scoop of the year as Mohammad Asghar, AM for South Wales East, defected from Plaid Cymru to the Conservatives on the day of Rhodri’s retirement. Plaid had been very proud in 2007 to have secured the election of the Assembly’s first ethnic minority member, so it was quite a coup for the fluffy, inclusive Conservatives to get him on board. Until he opened his mouth, however, and claimed that the reason he’d left was that he’d never been in favour of independence in the first place; broad churches though political parties are, one would have thought that in Plaid Cymru that was something of an article of faith.

And lo it transpired that the truth was rather murkier; Mohammad, who had previously been a member of both the Tories and Labour, had tried to employ his daughter, Natasha (herself a European candidate for Plaid), as a press officer only to be told that Plaid’s group policy, in line with the Jones Review (the Kelly Review’s Welsh sibling) was that family members could not be employed. Finding that decision not to his liking, he jumped to a friendlier ship. Although it has to be said that that ship’s captain has said that his party also intends to comply fully with Kelly; what price a return trip for Dave to make another clarifying declaration?

* Gareth Aubrey is a councillor in Cardiff and blogs at Long Despairing Young Something. Y Barcud Oren means ‘The Orange Kite’.

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