Thursday, October 25, 2007

Finding the real message.

Stephen Crabb, Conservative MP for Presceli Pembs. is an outstanding politician. I agree with him about most things. Yesterday he caused a bit of excitement by writing a 'platform' article for ConservativeHome. I have just read the article - and I have seldom read anything that has instigated so much comment which completely misses the point. I'm sure my regular readers will be surprised when I say that, if anything, Stephen has been rather more 'devolutionary' than I think is realistic at present. Don't laugh or snort derisively. Just read on instead.

Stephen Crabb wrote that "the current arrangements are a confused and unstable settlement for the composite parts of the United Kingdom". I agree.

He also wrote that "abolition of the devolved institutions is not currently saleable". I agree.

He then wrote that "we should now be looking at a re balancing of the devolution experiment." I agree.

Followed by "the case for some form of law making body for just England is becoming irresistible". I cautiously agree with the principle.

Then he wrote that "reform of the relevant Whitehall machinery is also necessary". I cautiously agree in principle.

He then assumes "a reduction of the number of MPs from Wales". I agree.

He then writes that "a future Conservative Government could even look at some form of limited fiscal devolution to create the impression of a fairer and more responsible devolved system". This goes further than I think is realistic at present.

Now, I would not have written the article in the same style as Stephen. The tone is about as opposite from that which I would have used as it is possible to be. But I take almost exactly the same approach to this issue as he does. It seems to me that there is a real basis for agreement. As far as I can see, the problem is that Stephen Crabb and David Davies are not being sufficiently involved in what is being said on behalf of the Party. They are both good, rational men who should be seen as key to our devolutionary policy. They are also men who will not be ignored or silenced - and I'm with them both on that. They must not be left out. At the very least, I hope this post will lead to some re-reading of yesterday's ConservativeHome article.

30 comments:

Ordovicius said...

Interesting how one must "find" these things and "interpret" them. Some would perhaps describe this as an exercise in damage limitation.

Dai Twp said...

I've read the full article in question and I'm more than happy to admit that I still can't quite understand what the point is that he's trying to make - other than having a good old moan.
He calls himself a "devo-sceptic" and tells us how all his reservations about devolution have come true (you could always count on those stupid Welsh people voting for a left leaning government if they ever had their way). He then goes on to acknowledge that the Assembly is unlikely ever to be abolished. Well fair enough that's sort of been the official Tory line for a while now.
He then moves on to the democratic imbalance in the UK and for a while there seems to be sugesting something along the lines of a Federal UK way beyond what is presently proposed and justifies this as the fairest option from a right wing viewpoint because each country would have to pay their own way. This seems quite a strange view from someone who calls themself a devo-sceptic. However he then puts in a rider that he's not convinced this would hold back Nationalism in Wales and Scotland either. So what exactly does he want?

Dr. Christopher Wood (avatar: "Farscape") said...

The real message should be: It's the economy stupid.

Without a sound growing dynamic economy Wales will have to keep on begging for money from London based on "need arguments".

This is so pathetic - when are we as a nation going to grow up?!?

Using such rhetoric as "smart small nation" does not cut it.

It's getting to the point that I am thinking of joining the Welsh Conservatives!

hedd said...

Have the Conservatives answered the question put to them by Alun Ffred Jones today:

"In 1997 it was mainly the Conservatives who ran the “No” campaign against devolution. Since then their Assembly Members claim to have been converted to supporting devolution and have openly backed calls for full law making powers for the Assembly. At the same time all three of their MPs are still very sceptical and would be quite likely to be part of a 'No' campaign. The people of Wales deserve to know where the Tories stand on this issue. Cheryl Gillan and David Cameron should make it clear whether or not the Westminster Conservatives, either in government or opposition, would support a “Yes” vote in a referendum. The Tories will never be able to offer real political leadership for Wales as long as they remain fundamentally divided on the constitutional question"

Glyn Davies said...

sanddef - I used direct quotes from the article. I have never read a long article without having to identify the key lines in it. It is always best to look beyond the rhetoric. You do not buy a house because of the wallpaper. Why don't you tell me what you conclude as Stephen's view of the way forward - from your reading of his words.

Dai twp - Fair interpretation. You have read it the same way as I did. I note your questioning in your final comment - but I do think that this line in the article was conjecture rather than policy direction, which is what I was looking for.

christopher - generally, I'm in favour of distributing public money according to need. It would be nice if I could say that Wales was in a position when needs assessment would not give Wales more on a per capita basis than other regons, but that is not the case. This is not a begging bowl philosophy, nor a plea for more money. You would be a most welcome recruit.

hedd said...

Glyn, Crabb makes it absolutely clear from his article that he is completely opposed to the concept of devolution in Wales.

"I remain a ‘devo-sceptic’"

He also makes it absolutely clear that the only reason he is not campaigning for the Assembly's abolition is because such a campaign is:

"not currently saleable"

I presumbe therefore that if it became 'salebale' he would support a campaign to abolish the Assembly?

Will the Conservatives have an official policy on further powers for the Assembly before the referendum, or will it be every man for himself with Crabb, David Davies and the ‘devo-sceptic’ majority in the Conservative Party campaigning for a NO vote?

Glyn Davies said...

Hedd - as far as I can see, there is not so much of a split in my party as you imply. Did you read my assessment of Stephen Crabb's article. You might not want to admit it, but it is the Conservative Party that has moved furthest and fastest towards a positive approach to devolution - and it doesn't matter a damn if this is born of logical acceptance. Did you watch Don Touig on Dragon's Eye tonight. What on earth are you upbraiding us for.

hedd said...

"You might not want to admit it, but it is the Conservative Party that has moved furthest and fastest towards a positive approach to devolution"

I do accept this, but they were starting from a pretty low base ;-)

"Did you watch Don Touig on Dragon's Eye tonight. What on earth are you upbraiding us for."

But there is a difference of course. Don Touig is arguing against his party's official line, which supports full law making powers for the Assembly. There is certainly a huge split within the Labour Party, but at least they are brave enough to formulate an official policy on the matter. On the other hand the Conservatives have NO official policy on the matter of further powers for the Assembly - with a few in favour, but the majority (in my view) against.

Until the Conservatives are brave enough to put their neck on the line one way or the other, the questions will remain, and most people in Wales will still believe that the Conservatives are opposed to further powers for the Assembly!

Ordovicius said...

sanddef - I used direct quotes from the article

As have I. It's still an attack on devolution, the Assembly, and on the policies of Conservative AMs.

Without a sound growing dynamic economy Wales will have to keep on begging for money from London based on "need arguments".

You're right. Wales needs full fiscal autonomy. At the moment we are subsidising England.

alanindyfed said...

Yet you must admit Glyn that Conservative attitudes towards full devolution for Wales appear to be inconsistent and ambivalent.

Glyn Davies said...

hedd - You have no grounds for your view (in my view) that only 'a few' Conservatives are in favour of law making powers, with the 'majority' against. All the feedback I receive when I make the case to Conservative audiences is entirely positive. As far as I can see, its just a question of leadership - and we will not know which of us is right until the issue is tested in a referendum.

Sanddef - I won't repeat myself about the difference between rhetoric and policy - but I should add that I am not in favour of 'full fiscal autonomy'. This was the one policy comment in Stephen's article where I thought he was too ambitious.
What I do think (and will have said so many times when I was Finance Spokesman for the Conservatives in the Assembly) is that any distribution formula will inevitably deliver higher per capita public spending in Wales than in England - even if the curent Barnett Formula may not be spot on. I have always felt, instinctively that it is not too far off - which is not the case with Scotland. This would only change if the statistics used for the measurement of 'needs' were to change in Wales' favour - and there is no sign of that happening.

Alan - I will certainly concede that not all Conservatives share my attitude towards devolution. But so what? Same would apply to other main UK parties. What matters is policy and in this area I am optimistic - and more so after reading the article that inspired this post.

hedd said...

"What matters is policy"

But the Conservatives have no policy! That's the problem. Until the party decides if it is in favour of further devolution or not, and to what extent, the Conservatives will be open to attack from both sides of the argument.

And I do not think that the Conservatives should wait until just before the referendum to decide. What about making a proposal in favour of a full Parliament for Wales at the next Welsh Conservative Party Conference Glyn?

I am surprised that patriotic Welshmen such as Bebb and Jones-Evans (and the silent majority in the Con Party who you claim support further devolution in Wales) have not done this already!

Che Grav-ara said...

I think Hedd makes a very good point about Don Touhig. There is a major split between the unionists and devolutionists in the Labour party. Certainly between Westminster and the Assembly. However the fact remains that the labour party have a policy on the matter and have committed (through One Wales0 to campaign for a yes vote. The fact also remains that whilst some tory's are on the face of it for further powers for wales there is no policy and it remains words without substance. As they say better the devil you know.

alanindyfed said...

I think that this very obvious split in the Labour and Conservative ranks
vis-a-vis the Assembly and Parliament
is fundamental and the polarisation will continue right down the line of devolution until the establishment of a Welsh Parliament. Only then will the parties' unity be revived in the light of current reality.

Ken Stevens said...

Devolution strikes me as analogous to offspring striking out on their own but still asking parents for financial assistance with the rent on their new flat, so that they can afford to buy lots of booze for their parties. Meanwhile the parents have to go drinkless.
Thus likewise with devolution.

Parents are perfectly within their rights to decline, on the basis that the kids should pay their own way. If they can't then, being loving parents, the kids can return to the family home.

Thus likewise with devolution.
Fiscal autonomy for Wales or return to being an integral part of UK.

Glyn Davies said...

Che - nothing to add.

Alan - Perhaps you can appreciate why I'm so keen to have some Conservative MPs/Lords who are positive about the new constitutional arrangements - and this is not to criticise those who remain devo-sceptics. They are welcome to remain so - as long as we develop a realistic policy based on the world as it is and not as we might like it to be.

Ken - your position is entirely logical but not practical - in that the Welsh people would simply not vote for tax raising powers. They may do some time in the future but that is for another day. I like your analogy. The position is that the children are given a lump sum of money and they have to live within their means. If they buy booze or sweets with it they will not have money to buy clothes and food or pay the rent. Yes they will whinge - and they certainly do. Which is why we need a distribution formula, whether it be Barnett or something else. The main reason I am in favour of law making powers being vested in the Assembly is to increase its accountability - because the confusion about responsibility greatly diminishes accountability at present.

Ken Stevens said...

Glyn,

I'm more than content with distribution formulae within a nation in order to maintain an equitable cohesive society by helping areas of particular need. Problem is that devolution has led to an inequitable, uncohesive situation across re-created national borders. If you are now back to being Wales rather than Great Britain, that is a perfectly worthy & honourable position - but why do your finances still involve me?

I'm a pragmatic Unionist, i.e. whilst it would be my strong preference, I recognise that there is no prospect of return to Union. The current devolution set-up is most unpalatable and we all need to move forward faster to federation or indeed independence.

Glyn Davies said...

Ken - I'm not really with you on this. The 'Union' still exists. All devolution does is allow discretion to move money within budget heads - the total sum having been distributed equitably by the Treasury. I fully understand why a logical mind should follow the path of thought down which you are travelling - but it would not be remotely acceptable to the people in a referendum.

I totally agree with you that the current devolutionary settlement is unpalatable - which is why I want to take it to a position where the devolved government is wholly responsible for devolved issues - and therefor accountable. It may be that I, personally would look at some form of devolved fiscal policy - but I never bother mention it because it is such a non starter.

Ken Stevens said...

Glyn(and anyone else with a view on it)

Out of general interest, would you concur with the principle that England should similarly have a devolved assembly/parliament/whatever, or do you regard UK and English government as synonymous?

[Not a provocative question, leading to a bunfight. I'm just interested to get a feel for Welsh views on this aspect, as my contact has been more on the Scottish side so far]

Matt Wright said...

Much of the current debate about devolution is driven by partisan agendas. Our aim should be to make democracy work for all the people of Wales (and of Britain for that matter). That would require real devolution as close to people as possible. At the moment people in North Wales feel almost as left out by Cardiff as they did by London. Some people feel more left out. In the case of both funding and powers we need to work out what is needed and at which tier of Govt. A much greater degree of power needs to go down to counties and communities.

Matt

Glyn Davies said...

Ken - I do think that there should be some form of devoled authority for England - whether it be 'English votes for English laws' or the English MPs in the UK Parliament sitting for an extra session as an English Parliament - or some variation on this. Without some development, the resentment caused by decisons of the Scottish Parliament and National Assembly for Wales will seem to disadvantage the people of England will grow and become increasingly divisive.

Matt - lots of issues involved in your post which could keep a conversation going for weeks! Living in Mid Wales, I share your sense of the Assembly being out-of-touch. I suspect the feeling is even worsr where we live.

I agree about giving more influence to local authorities. It has always been my opinion that while the role of the Assembly is not much more than a local authority, there will be an inherent pressure to take on what are traditionally local council functions.

For me the debate about Assembly powers is about accountability. While resposibility for devolved matters is split between Westminster and Cardiff, neither Parliament is accountable. I believe that the public will accept this point - while being unwilling to accept the logical extantion of it to tax raising powers.

Ken Stevens said...

Glyn,
Thank you for enlightenment.

Shall now toodle off back to ConservativeHome, whence cameth the link to this topic here.

Glyn Davies said...

Ken and others - I do read quite a lot about 'England' subsidising 'Wales' via the Barnett Formula, which is currently used as the mechanism for the distribution of public money to Wales and Scotland. There can be no argument that the Barnett Formula is outdated - it was introduced about 30 years ago (for one year I think). It was based on the then populations of the respective countries. What has happened is that the population of Scotland has decreased sharply - but the Formula has not been reviewed to reflect it. There has not been the same population change in Wales.

At present the per capita Treasury money allocated to wales is higher than in England - as indeed it would be under any distribution formula based on needs. Those who argue that public money should be distributed on a per capita basis seem to me to challenge the entire basis on which public money has always been allocated.

It does not help when the Assembly and Scotttish Parliament do something that effects individuals so directly as the scrapping of prescription charges - even if they are cutting spending elsewhere to pay for it.

When I was closely involved in debate on this issue, my gut feeling was that Wales is receiving somewhere near what a reformed formula would allocate - but Scotland is recievibg far too much. The Scots disagree with this!!

Matt Wright said...

Glyn, there is a strong feeling in local govt, from all sides of party politics, that Cardiff has accrued to it powers that would best be handled by local communities. The squeeze being that it apparently took powers from Westminster but also from local Govt. There is a serious isue here about what powers should be handled at what level of Govt. There should be a fresh look at this from first principles - what should be done in Westminster, what in Cardiff, what in the counties and what at community council level. Our party is increasingly subscribed to localism and my view is that we should be engaging in proper devolution to communities and to the people. There would still be a clear and important function for a Cardiff based Assembly but it should be far less bureaucratic and far more strategic.

Matt

Glyn Davies said...

matt - agreed.

Oscar said...

I worry about anyone agreeing with Matt!
I am sorry to say some are far more up to the job of writting papers than others.
Mr Crabb and our team at Westminster are a good trio.
More than can be said for most of the Assembly.

Glyn Davies said...

oscar - I thought Matt made a very good point about devolving power to local authorities. Can't see what that's got to do with the impressiveness of our trio at Westminster, which is indeed considerable.

Dai Twp said...

When questioned on the Politics Show today Nick Bourne made no attempt to deny the accusation that was put to him about Crabbs comments and went on to say that he disagreed with just about everything he said. I thought this was quite interesting, since the is plenty in the article which he could have chose to "interperet" (much as you have done yourself) as opening the platform of debate in the Conservative Party for further powers being granted (in parallel with calls for English votes on English issues). However he simply stated that he disagreed with pretty much everything in the article.

Glyn Davies said...

Dai - I also saw the interview. Lets just say that I would have answered the question in a very different way, and leave it at that.

Anonymous said...

bourne looked as if he was spoiling for a fight with crabbe