Monday, August 18, 2008

Another Cardiff/Westminster Spat

Another day, another row over National Assembly powers. It does seem as if Lord Dafydd Elis Thomas and Alun Michael MP really do detest each other. Throughout the period when Alun was First Minister of the National Assembly, we all knew there was a lack of warmth twixt the two. I was only six feet away when this coolness descended into the icepit from which it may never have escaped. When Alun tendered his resignation 8 years ago by handing an envelope to Dafydd in the Presiding Officer's Chair with a great flourish, the PO refused to accept it, simply setting it aside without opening it. Alun's little stunt was designed to preempt a 'No Confidence' vote in his leadership, but Dafydd was having none of it. The letter remained unopened, the vote went ahead, Alun was removed from office, and my guess is that the two have not passed a civil word since.

Back to today's row. Lord Elis Thomas went public on his opinion that MPs are out of order to complain about the workload that the Legislative Competence Order system is in danger of putting on them. I do not know why he did this. But Alun Michael thinks he knows. He told the BBC that he thinks Dafydd is trying to portray the present system as unworkable, so that Plaid Cymru can demand a referendum on full law making powers. In my opinion, it would have been better if both of them had said nothing.

Actually, Alun Michael is talking complete tosh on this point. My guess is that his Lordship does not want a referendum any time soon - not that he'd admit it. It would be far too risky. I think that Dafydd went public because he just can't help putting on a show. If he's not involved in some controversy for two weeks in a row, I reckon he sits down with a glass of the finest wine and ponders how he can put right the discrepancy.

Personally, I just despair about this sort of public spat. The current Government of Wales Act is such a complex nonsense that its a threat to our constitution - "a constitutional crisis waiting to happen" is my usual phrase. Now who was it who said that "a period of silence would be welcome".


Anonymous said...

For once I'm with Alun Michael. Dafydd Elis Thomas is a posturing drama queen.

Steffan said...

I'm not a big DET fan though he seems, in many people's opinion (including that of politicians and media commentators), to have done a pretty good job as our Assembly's first Llywydd.

It is a complete distortion of the truth to say that he has tried to undermine the LCO system. I can think of nobody, outside some members of the Labour party, who has done more to defend it (much to the irritation of many in DET's own party).

As to the issue of going public on this - surely the complaint of being swamped by law-making requests has been put out there (by the MP's) and DET is right to put the facts before us. It does annoy when politicians treat us (the voters) like children - I want to know the truth of these matters and I want to know what my representatives are up to: especially when they're not being entirely honest.

alanindyfed said...

Is it not obvious to everyone that the system of LCOs isunworkable and few laws will come into being and at a very slow pace?

It is also obvious that a Welsh parliament is the answer and that it has support from the majority of thinking people.

Apart from that, LCOs are humiliating to Wales, requiring permission from Westminster for enactment of legislation.

Finally, why is there a difference in legislative powers between Wales and Scotland? Are they not equal entities? Why should Wales accept second place and a diminutive position constitutionally?

Glyn Davies said...

anon - In itself, there's nothing wrong with being a posturing drama queen!

steffan - I am a fan of DET. Always have been. He's been a very good presiding Officer inmy opinion.

I agree with you. I thought Alun Michael was entirely wrong to suggest that DET wanted the LCO system to fail. The only time I thought that Plaid Cymru were playing this little game was when they put forward the idea of ending right-to-buy.

I accept that it would have been better if the spat had not been started, but politicians of stature should rise above petty squabbles. Dafydd's comments only drew much more attention to the original comments, which most people would have missed completely, and the rest forgotton - and it opened the door for Alun Michael.

Alan - but it isn't only thinking people who vote.

Daran said...

" I thought Alun Michael was entirely wrong to suggest that DET wanted the LCO system to fail. "

The Presiding Officer clearly has more faith in the system than pretty much everyone else concerned, from across the party spectrum.
- He broke ranks with Plaid to support the legislative system proposals during the passage of the Government of Wales Act 2006.
- He has ensured that various stages of legislative competence are appropriately celebrated and recognised in the Assembly.
- And who can forget his defence of the system on CF99 when he rejected suggestions it was too complex to understand?

"We are where we are" is the phrase I keep hearing. Dafydd knows exactly where we are and, in my opinion, wants to make the here and now work.

It may be in some people's interests and intentions to make sure the current system doesn't work (and there are plenty of ways in which it can be derailed with political will), but for my part I think that if we ever want to win a referendum with full law making powers then the Assembly needs to show it can use the powers it has already been given.

And I use the word "given" deliberately. Sovereignty remains in another place. That may not suit everyone, but them's the cards I'm afraid.

What the Assembly needs at the moment is realpolitik and our Presiding Officer is offering such an approach at a sensitive time.

DaiTwp said...

It all comes down to how you want to read the initial report from the MPs.
Basically a play on words - it all could easily have been lifted from an episode of Yes Minister!

Glyn Davies said...

Daran - I agree with you in every respect, except that I do not agree with Dafydd El that the system is not complex. It is and is properly understood by very few.

Daitwp - Its a row over not much at all, and my point is that it produced nothing and need not have happened. Let it become chip paper quickly.

Draig said...

The whole LCO issue is a complete distraction from the real issue: proper powers for Cardiff. Peter Hain (it was his baby after all)has bogged Cardiff down in legislative trench warfare with our useless, self-serving MPs.

And unfortunately the referendum that we are being offered by the Red/Green coalition is based on GOWA 2006 and is a basically a mess. It's even being marketed by the All Wales Convention itself as "A Full Lawmaking Parliament" when it's not.

I think when the public realises they are being conned into voting for another fudge support for it will collapse. People's tolerance for political shenanigans is wearing thin.

Anonymous said...

Steffan is certainly right in saying that DET is popular with the press hacs and politico types. As one who spends much of his time entertaining the " elete of the bay" dropping off the odd comment or two on political foes - in and outside the Blaid! he is seen as harmless and safe. With the Lords to escape to - after the next Assembly Election ( a cross bentcher?) his occasion visits to Dolgellau, Pwllheli and the west grow as infrequent as those of Lloyd George 65 years ago.

Alun Michael is " Mr Detail" may of course soon be following DET to the Upper House and we can all look forward to their long standing relationship being on display in the pages of the Western Mail and Liverpool Post.

I for one can hardly wait!

Glyn Davies said...

Draig - Its generally thought that the Bill was based on an agreement twixt Peter Hain and Dafydd El - but not known. Nothing ever is with the Lord of Dolgllau.

I don't think its right to call the tranfer of law making powers in devolved areas a fudge. But it questionable whether you can call it a full Parliament while so many more policy areas would be reserved for Westminster than is the case with Scotland. Personally, I believe that an extention of powers from what is currently devolved would lead to rejection in a referendum.

Steffan - the sparring could become a national institution - a bit like Ted Heath and Mrs Thatcher.

Anonymous said...

Looking at your Blog Glyn from my Irish cottage overlooking the its raining I see that my good friend the Lord is still defending his mad system of LC0s.

Last week I was having a pint or two in my local here and met our TD home from the Dail and also still on the Claire Council.

I tried to explain the LCOs system - he thinks that the Lord may benefit from a trip to Dublin to see how their complicated system of links to their Senate works....or not.

Perhaps we can try this next..or is this the mad plan of showing the time is here for a real Parliament.

Glyn Davies said...

anon - lucky you. Spent some time myself at Kilrush (where there's a very nice country park with views of the Shannon). The current system of LCOs could well turn out to be a failure, but I don't think this is part of Dafydd El's plan. But it is devilishly hard to guess what's in his mind.

alanindyfed said...

He's as mercurial as Merlin.