Y Barcud Oren #9

June, it turned out, was a pretty good month to take off blogging to move house. Between the blogosphere and the twitterati putting their oar in, the European election results were pored over more thoroughly than any before (from a Welsh perspective I’d recommend Dominic Hannigan’s review on Freedom Central) and gallons of un-ink were spilt over expenses and the speakership.

I Said We’ll Consider The Results Of The Consultation And I Mean No

Still, the Assembly Government had to do something with its time and their continuing quest to look like they’re trying to get more powers while not actually getting them was happy to oblige. The last public event of the All Wales Convention was always going to fuel the speculation about the referendum that is essentially Plaid’s excuse for getting into bed with Labour, particularly when the chair of the convention, Sir Emyr Jones Parry, sounded a rather downbeat note on the level of public interest.

Mind you, the starting gun had already been fired by the once and future Secretary of State. No sooner had Peter Hain got his feet back under his desk in Gwydyr House than he was confidently telling The Western Mail that, not only would there not be a referendum before 2011, but that senior Plaid members understood that was the case.

The usual suspects (The Next Leader Of Plaid Cymru™, the Secretary General of the People’s Democratic Republic Of Treherbert and the Head of the Church of I Hate Sian Caiach) went unsurprisingly ape, but from those “senior Plaid members” whose understanding might be thought important, comment came there none. That silence may be down to Hain’s increasing irrelevance, however; his contribution so far has largely been to rage against the dying of the light in an ever more hilarious parody of every anti-Tory cliché Labour have in their arsenal.

Not that there weren’t reminders that the devolution debate is about more than Mandelson-waving. The publication of the Calman Commission report in Scotland only served to underline both how far Wales lags behind their current settlement, let alone the settlement we and they need. The Holtham Commission then put numbers to the scale of the problem, estimating that Wales would receive £300m more if it were funded according to the formula used for the English regions instead of the Barnett Formula.

Less Of The Solicitor, More Of The Country

But with the red half of the coalition doing their best to screw things up, the mutually assured incompetence that lies at the heart of the One Wales agreement kicked in and it was the green half’s leader who stepped up to the plate to deliver it.

To kick things off, Ieuan Wyn Jones decided to fight a pitched battle with the Assembly’s Finance Committee over the disclosure of advice given by officials during a review of the government’s road-building programme. Such was Ieuan Wyn’s reticence to reveal the advice that the committee had to threaten to use Freedom Of Information laws to beat it out of him. Extraordinarily, he decided to take the threat as an actual request and thus refuse to deal with the committee’s original disclosure request until the Freedom Of Information process was completed, thus further delaying matters. The threats were duly upgraded to use of the Assembly’s subpoena powers (a year in jail and a fine of £5000) and an agreement on disclosure was released.

Nevertheless, the questions around the Minister’s soundness were being asked and there were numbers to back them up, with Ieuan Wyn found to be missing the target for response time to correspondence by quite some margin. When questioned by one of those to whom his response had not been timely, a certain Kirsty Williams, he blew a gasket and demanded an apology for the attack on his civil servants.

Things were getting so bad that the episodes of incompetence were coinciding. On July 1st, Ieuan Wyn first faced questions from all the other groups (Huw Lewis for Labour, William Graham for the Tories and Mike German for us) about the dualling of the A465 Heads Of The Valleys Road. This might be considered the government’s flagship (read: only) regeneration project for the area except that it was one of the schemes deprioritised in the review Ieuan Wyn was so eager to hide in favour of a range of North-South schemes that might be thought more useful to his national building agenda.

A few hours later, the Assembly debated the Welsh Assembly Government’s Response To The Current International Economic Downturn. But was the Minister for Economic Development there? Was he bollocks. Instead, he was giving a speech at a conference two miles away that clashed because it had been brought forward by a quarter of an hour; had it gone the other way he could have jumped on a bus, let alone into a comfy ministerial car…

Through all of this, Plaid maintained that it was all a party political plot to destabilise the coalition rather than evidence of gross inability to locate butt with hands. Either way it was definitely destabilising the coalition, with Labour sources (admittedly the unnamed kind) suggesting the Liberal Democrats could be brought into One Wales in the post-Rhodri world specifically because Ieuan Wyn wasn’t doing a good job (and also to screw the Tories with Cameron in Downing Street).

And then, just to prove that it really was a question of Ieuan Wyn being out of his depth, it turned out that his deal with the Finance Committee was less generous than at first suggested; the Committee would get the paperwork, but on the last day before the recess so they couldn’t consider it until they got back. Once the cameras were switched off the Plaid members of the committee returned to the politicisation line, but as one Labour member put it, “It’s not this committee that’s undermining the government, it’s your f*****g minister!”

* Gareth Aubrey is a councillor in Cardiff and blogs at Long Despairing Young Something.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds and Wales.
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