Friday, December 31, 2010

Referendum misinformation.

I am a Conservative Member of the House of Commons representing the Welsh seat of Montgomeryshire - to which I was elected in May 2010 with a swing of 13.2% against the supposedly 'resurgent' Liberal Democrats. There was one larger swing somewhere else in the UK, but against demoralised Labour. It was a spectacular result. Many commentators, searching for an explanation blame Lembit Opik, the Liberal Democrat incumbent who has a high profile as a 'celebrity' - despite this having been Lembit's style ever since his first election victory in 1997. Against a very good Conservative in 2005, he had won approx. 16,000 votes against 9,000. I have not minded one bit that so many believe that the Conservative victory was little to do with the particular style of 'Conservatitism' that underpinned our campaign in Montgomeryshire. Usual response has been "Look at the score on the door". But it is beginning to grate a bit on me, though not for the self-serving reason that I've no doubt has come to your mind, dear reader.

I think I can reasonably claim to have been a significant part of the face of Conservatism in Montgomeryshire for 15 years, along with Simon Baynes, Dan Munford and David Jones. My 'pitch' has always been based on my 'Welshness' - hugely proud of having learned the Welsh Language, a lover of Welsh culture, and totally committed to a successful future for Wales and the National Assembly. I've been publicly very supportive of granting law-making power to the Assembly - until I was recently appointed a PPS, which requires that I be neutral. The point I'm making is that reasonable extrapolation suggests that the Conservative Party in Montgomeryshire is comfortable with what I stand for. And I pont out to those who have only a Z- knowledge of geography, Montgomeryshire lies adjacent to English England, with a huge number of English immigrants.

So why am I having to read and listen to so much garbage about the Conservatives not caring about Wales - and a Coalition Government at Westminster instinctively wanting to ignore Wales and treat her as if she didn't exist. Prominent Yes campaigners are popping up in the Western Mail on almost a daily basis to claim that a No vote would put devolution into reverse. What on earth are they on about? No it wouldn't. There is no justification for any of this misinformation. Rhodri Morgan puts forward a much more balanced argument to this week's Montgomertshire County Times - "Same destination but one path longer than the other". No stupid talk about reverse. For some reason, commentators in Wales dismiss Conservative MPs from Wales as not representing Welsh interests. Its complete baloney - just because the Welsh media cannot be bothered to get off it's **** and find out what's happening the other end of the M4. I read reams of similar utter tosh about S4C a few weeks back. Lets get it straight. Whether there's a Yes vote or a No vote, there will be Welsh Conservative (and all the other parties as well) every bit as committed to Wales and Welsh interests as members of the Welsh Assembly will be. And Conservative voters in Montgomeryshire would not have it any other way.


MH said...

You're protesting too much, Glyn. Being a PPS doesn't "require" anyone to be neutral. It is the Conservative party that has imposed that particular requirement on you, because the Conservative party was too deeply divided to be able to reach a common position one way or another about whether Wales should have primary lawmaking powers.

And for that very reason, people from other parties do have good reason to be suspicious about how much your party is committed to Wales and Welsh interests ... for you have AMs and MPs who, to say the least, have very fundamental differences over what is in Welsh interests with regard to devolution.

You have had your Road to Damascus experience and are now, from my perspective, on the right side of the argument. That deserves recognition, and I have always been happy to commend you for it. But I think you are stretching things a bit far by making out that because this is one issue on which you personally are what I would call a "decent Tory" it must somehow mean that the rest of your party shares the same decency. It doesn't.

Your party still has a long way to go before it becomes a Welsh Conservative Party rather than the Conservative Party in Wales. One simple demonstration of this is that even though you say you want a fair funding formula based on need, you say you are not going to do anything to bring it about until you've sorted out the UK economy as a whole ... as if £300m a year would somehow throw a spanner into an economy in which debt is now approaching £1,000bn.

How can anyone who claims to have Wales' interests at heart stand by and see the rest of the UK get £300m each year that you acknowledge should rightly come to us? Where is your commitment to Wales getting a Barnett consequential on Olympic expenditure? Where is your commitment to Wales getting a proportionate share of infrastructure investment on rail? Why did you cut the budget of one public service broadcaster, the BBC, by only 16% but cut S4C's budget by 24%?

These are just a few examples of how your party could change to show that it is "committed to Wales and Welsh interests". Why not make a new year's resolution to change your party's position on all four?

Glyn Davies said...

MH - Sorry but you are mistaken in several instances.

1) Differing opinions within the Conservative Party have nothing to do with why the Sec. of State wants her 'ministerial team' to remain neutral. Its because, as the 'team' has responsibility for delivering a 'fair and true' referendum, she sensibly does not want us to be accused of bias. You could more accurately argue that allowing party representatives to campaign on either side in the referendum campaign is a recognition that there are differing opinions.

2) I think its fair to say that Plaid Cymru and the Lib Dems are fairly united in support of a Yes, but this cannot be said about Labour - even if the Labour Party are seeking to take ownership of the Yes campaign because they want to be asociated with the winning side. In any case, a politician can be totally committed to Welsh interests without being in favour of devolution.

3) I have not had a 'Road to Damascus experience'. I have been proudly Welsh all of my life - (even unwisely voting Plaid Cymru until I began taking a serious interest in what parties actually stood for.) And it seems to me to be a strange political judgement to equate 'decency' and 'agreemnet with your opinion'. Many of my (non-political) friends are both anti-devolution and wholly decent people.

4) Funding via the Barnett Formula is an interesting issue. My own view is that it cannot be dealt with in a Welsh context only. It has to involve a reduction in the Scottish budget of billions every year. According to Gerry Holtham, Wales loses out by a fairly small percentage (which I believe he described as 'margin of error), while Scotland benefits hugely. Its likely that parts of England lose out to a significantly greater extent than Wales, a position that would be made worse unless it was a comprehebnsive UK solution.

And now my toast is ready, which I shall enjoy before going out fo a walk.

Glyn Davies said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Glyn Davies said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

First of all Glyn blwyddyn newydd dda, happy new year. And it seems that the blog has finally gone back to it's old self, with good interesting reads in the past few posts!.

I think the Referendum next year is a very difficult one. To most it is not a debate about the 2006 Act moving faster. Rather its whether there should be an Assembly, and if so should it have 'stronger powers'. Though the Referendum next year only does this very indirectly. So when people say that if it's a strong "No" vote, I really think it'll put Devolution in reverse. The press will state there is no confidence in the NAfW, and there should be a vote on getting rid of it. But more importantly if there is a "no" vote, I think we'll see the LCO process slow down even further. With MP's able to say "the Welsh people said No to more powers, we don't think we should give them this and that competence".
Just like if there is a strong "yes" vote, no doubt will it seem like a big thumbs up to the NAfW and calls for further (perhaps financial) powers.

When it comes to the Welsh Conservatives. Theres no doubt that most of the members are obviously very keen on Welsh interests. The problem is that MP's from England aren't- and I can understand why!.
And so as we have so little Welsh Conservative MP's the calls about Wales are diluted heavily.

But why doesn't this happen in Labour? well obviously they have more Welsh MP's. A greater strong-hold. And crucially very prominent MP's. Really (sorry Glyn) there aren't any prominent Welsh Conservative MP's!.
I also think that the Conservative party is a very 'strict' party to be in. And one seems to have to stick to the party line (which is quite right), so this can put MP's in very hard positions.

And so perhaps Labour are able to project a more 'pro-Wales' stance due to this?.

I don't know, it's just a theory!!

FINALLY. Staying neutral on a Referendum is absolute B**ls. If D.C and N.C can have an opinion on the AV referendum so should you on the Welsh one. This being neutral is utter-tosh from the Wales Office, and really doesn't help the Conservatives PR in Wales!. Who thought of that!?

Glyn Davies said...

Anon - I can engage with much in this comment.

1) Of course you have a point about the 'neutrality' issue - but from a personal viewpoint I've made my opinion clear over long enough for there to not be much doubt about what I think. And of course I could resign as a PPS today, give myself more freedom to say just what I think, but lose any ability to influence that I might have. I chose to ytr the PPS route.

I just completely disagree with you about the impact of a No vote - and I can only speak from my perspective. There will not be any talk of abolition during or after the referendum - even if there are many who would like it. And we would still be burdened with a complex system of power transfer that I for one would like to make easier. At this stage I have no idea whether I can have any influence on this, but I see it as worth a try.

I also think you are right to point out that Wales has but 8 Conservative MPs, which might be thought to give us little influence. But I'm in an office with 3 other new Conservative MPs from Wales who could develop quite soon into highly influential MPs. Lets just give them a chance.

Glyn Davies said...

Anon - And thanks for your comment about the blog. Its probably true that its becoming a bit more bloody minded. For the last year, I've been in a position where my focus has been elesewhere - trying to win what looked an impossible call, and then learning a job I could not have been at all confident of finding myself doing. It could also be that I've reached a position where I think b***cks to what critics think. Its my blog, written by me for me, and those who don't like it can B****r off somewhere else. Happy New Year.

Anonymous said...

The candidate who made Lembit's behaviour an elevction issue was Heledd Fychan.

In the past you have been generous enough to say so.

MH said...

In his last paragraph Anon has already described answer (1) in more colourful—though no less accurate—terms than I would, Glyn. But at least you now acknowledge that being a PPS does not require you to be neutral, it is the Tory party leadership that has imposed that on you.

Answer (2) again touches on why your first answer is rubbish. For even though there are some refuseniks in the Labour party, the party as a whole was able to reach a collective decision. Your party's leadership was unable to unite its different factions. I'd call that either weak leadership or complete indifference on the part of your leadership about an issue that is of fundamental importance to Wales. How can a political party that claims to be serious about Wales be unable to form an opinion about whether to support Wales getting primary lawmaking powers?

Answer (3) suggests you might have had a little too much champagne last night. You were against devolution and voted against it. You then changed your mind when you were shown to be in the minority. But you want to pretend that I was talking about your Welshness. Bless.

As to (4) who said it had to be dealt with in a Welsh context only? I was making precisely the opposite point: that Wales being short changed relative to the remainder of the UK meant that the RUK was getting more than its fair share. It isn't a matter of how much there is to spend, but on how what there is to spend is divided.

Have you thought about your answers to the remaining three questions?

Sea Wood (xWCHL) said...

"Its my blog, written by me for me, and those who don't like it can B****r off somewhere else."

"Its my party I can cry if I want to!"

It's patently obvious you are getting a bit tired.

The grind of long drives/trips etc.

Might I suggest a bit of gold-panning or Tornado hunting in the good old USofA.

Glyn Davies said...

Anon - Not sure what your point is. Heledd certaintly did launch in, but it was Lembit himself who made his behaviour (style of operation) an election issue. And she did rather a good job of it. I just decided not to join in. Didn't want anyone else defining our campaign.

MH - You are entitled to your opinion but in the interests of accuracy - it was the Secretary of State who decided I should be neutral as her PPS, and I was content with that. My opinion on the matter is already well known. I intend to do what I was going to do anyway - hold meetings around my constituency explaining what's involved. That's what I did in '97. Booked several local halls (I was not actively involved in politics at the time and had to pay for them myself) and called my meetings 'Devolution - Yes or No', where I tried to explain what was involved and encouraged people to vote. When pushed at these meetings I said that I was opposed to the toothless non-worthwhile body that was being proposed. On 19th Sept 1997, when it was clear that an assembly was going to be established, I wanted it to be a more stable and sensible arrangement, and have consistantly worked for that ever since. Seems entirely logical to me. And now my supper's ready.

Anonymous said...

I think you are being very unfair toward Glyn. Yes it's quite obvious some Tories don't want the Assembly to have more powers, just like some members in Labour don't. However, despite me being a firm nationalist I don't think this means they are 'Anti-Welsh'. Some (wrongly in my opinion) just think that Wales would be better with the status quo, or no Assembly. They believe that, that would be better for Wales. I totally disagree, but you can't call them anti-Welsh.

I also think it'd be wrong for Conservative HQ to say they're campaigning for a Yes or No. As quite clearly some members wouldn't keep to that. So it'd be a pointless exercise. Sure Labour is officially Yes, but I'm sure if you'll ask Neil Kinnock I don't think he'd keep to the party line.

So on the whole you shouldn't criticise them for not choosing a position. However you should criticise them for being 'neutral' as I mentioned earlier. Instead it should like AV be a 'free' issue where Glyn could actively campaign for, and Cheryl against.

And to say that we should be suspicious about Con AM's and MP's for having differences is terribly unfair. I prefer to have a debate in a party rather than have a 'party line'. And despite me disagreeing with some MP's views, we have to respect their views and not call them anti-Welsh. Otherwise it just comes nasty, and as a nationalist I think this is where our biggest problem lies.

With Barnett you're right, its awful and they should do something about it. But they won't just like no party will. And it's partly because of Scotland, if they change Barnett, they would have to cut the Scottish grant.... and we know that won't happen. The opportunity may arise where if the new Scotland Bill passes and Scotland get to "keep" some revenue, it'll be a test for the UK Gov to see if they change Barnett finally. But obviously the sooner it's gone the better, but to say they're gonna do something about it is pipe-dreams, but if they do I have to say they should have great credit.
In terms of what is 'Barnetted' it seems very little is written about it. I feel the Gov should open this up to make it more transparent, perhaps allow the Devolved Leaders to 'plead for their share'- however colonial it may seem. In my opinion we should have a federal tax system like Italy, but thats for another day!.

Glyn Davies said...

Anon - Kind of you to come to my defence, but this business about 'neutrality' is a side issue. I decided years ago that I was going to throw myself into boosting turn-out. Anyone who has taken the slightest notice of what this blog has been saying, ad nauseum, for several years knows what I think. I anticipate a Yes vote on a low turn-out. I just hope that its not so low as to destroy credibility.

Anonymous said...

Point I was making regarding Heledd's sustained attack on Lembit's antics is this: an MP or candidate's behaviour does not become an issue unless attention is drawn to it. Heledd made it her business to expose Lembit's self serving ways. In a mild and non confrontational county - mwynder Maldwyn - he might well have got away with it again but for the feisty Ms.Fychan. I do hope she was on your Christmas card list, Glyn.

MH said...

You used "anti-Welsh" three times, Anon 10:37. Which is exactly three times more than I used it. If you want to comment on what I said, then comment on that, not on what you imagined I said.

But yes, some Tories obviously would not stick to the party line if the Tories had one, just as some in Labour won't. But at least Labour has the courage to have a made a decision. The Tories were not able to do that. In an issue of such political importance to Wales, that's a cop out for any political party. By all means have debate, that's healthy, but at the end of the debate a decision needs to be made. The failure to make a decision is what is most damning. As I said, it's either weak leadership, or indifference towards what's important to Wales.


As for Barnett, you say change "won't happen" as if it were carved in stone. Being in power is about changing things that are unfair. All you are saying is that the Tories think unfairness to Wales is more acceptable than upsetting Scotland. That might well be true, but it makes a nonsense of Glyn's claim that his party stands for Wales and Welsh interests.

It also fits well into my narrative of the Tory leadership either being too weak (in this case to change the Barnett Formula) or being completely indifferent about what's important to Wales.


Glyn, just a small point. The title of your post is Referendum Misinformation, and I agree that it's silly "to claim that a No vote would put devolution into reverse". But aren't you straying into the same sort of silliness when you say that the turnout might be "so low as to destroy credibility"?

The turnout will be low; I'd be surprised if it were over 40%, and wouldn't be too surprised if it were 35%. But no credibility will be lost because of that. The issue is narrow, technical and not easy for a lot of people to understand. And I suspect it is for precisely that reason that both True Wales and (I'm sad to say) even Yes for Wales show signs of wanting to portray the referendum as being about other things ... hoping to find subject areas such as independence, taxation or the performance and policies of the current Welsh Government that will either resonate or dissonate with voters, to spread the agenda into the familiar ground of party politics and therefore encourage more people to turn out.

Perhaps its a truism that referendums are seldom fought on the actual issue, but let's be careful not to feed that agenda, Glyn.

Anonymous said...

Without a shadow of a doubt, Heledd's campaigning on Opik's lifestyle issues was pivotal in your win in Mont. As was the Sian Lloyd factor. He'll never get chosen to represent the Libs here again. One day he'll get it. In the meantime, the car crash continues apace....