Friday, April 26, 2013

One-Party-State - Look at Wales

Have you ever wondered how a one-party-state would work in a British context. Well, since devolution, we have a Government in Wales which is giving us a bit of an idea. Really good example this week about a committee system would work. None of this messing about with elections as we do at Westminster. None of this freedom for elected politicians deciding to influence policy through a democratic process - (like the recent election of clear-thinking Peter Lilley onto the Environment and Climate Change Committee in the House of Commons). No - if a committee member shows any capacity to think for themselves, or stand by a principle, just throw them off - immediately. And because this way of operating within Welsh Labour is no surprise, its not even much of a media story.

Better explain (though Betsan Powys does it better). The Children and Young People's Committee of the National Assembly for Wales are considering the complex Social Services Bill. Three Labour AMs are publicly in support of a legal ban on smacking children. The Minister is not. (I should add that I agree with the Minister, Gwenda Thomas). Anyway, just before the Committee was due to meet, to take evidence, and consider an amendment to introduce the smacking ban into the Bill, Labour's Chief Whip just sacked the three principled members, Christine Chapman (Chair), Julie Morgan and Jenny Rathbone - and replaced them with three others. When the meeting started, the microphones were turned off so that new chair, Ann Jones could explain that she had only just found out she was even on the Committee. Sir George Young must be salivating at the thought of such untrammelled power. Its what happens when one party is always in power. Independent, principled thought is banned,even if the smacking of children is not.

And this comes after news this week that First Minister, Carwyn Jones simply refused to answer a FOI inquiry about discussions between himself and Sir Terry Mathews. Now behind the request is the suspicion (I think) that Sir Terry has influenced, or sought to influence who is in the First Minister's Cabinet. Now again I have some sympathy with Carwyn Jones here. I've never been a fan of the FOI system - but can you imagine the UK Gov't getting away with this sort of high-handed behaviour. My oft-expressed view when I was an Assembly Member myself was that devolved Welsh democracy will not have 'grown up' until Labour in Wales is occupying the opposition benches.  No reason to change that opinion.

9 comments:

Efrogwr said...

A reform of the National Assembly electoral system would make it more difficult for Labour to dominate the Assembly disproportionately. The Richard Commission recommended STV. There was talk that the Coalition might change the system in connection with the (now abandoned) plans to reduce the number of MPs. Could the Coalition could still do something to crack open politics in Wales. It would be a great service to political pluralism, and maybe even to the Labour party itself.

Glyn Davies said...

Efrogwr - Personally, I believe genuine tax making powers would end Labour's hegemony in Wales. Voters would have a genuine choice linked to their wallets. Without the 'walletry link' its difficult to persuade voters to give much serious thought to how they vote.
I can see that there are benefits that might flow from PR, but I've always been a first-past-the-post man. I have found the Assembly election system too disconnected from voters than is to my taste as it is.

Anonymous said...

Efrogwr makes an excellent point. Academics from Harvard and MIT have demonstrated a clear link between economic performance and plurality. The present d'Hondt system is bad enough, pure FPTP would be a disaster (do you seriously support FPTP for NAW elections?) STV is fair and would lead to desperately needed plurality.

Anonymous said...

Erogwr is right. Labour do very well in Wales but the system isn't proportional enough. In other European countries Labour's Welsh votes wouldn't give them the dominance they get here. The system isn't proportional enough.

Sadly the Tories don't get this because they are stuck in a British FPTP mindset. Tax powers won't end their hegemony. Has Glyn actually looked at the Silk proposals? They're very modest tax proposals and the Welsh budget would have gone UP in the last decade if they'd been in place.

Pluralism is the way forward to getting a better politics in Wales. The idea that Silk tax powers will weaken Labour is not based on evidence and is clutching at straws.

Democritus said...

One has to fight elections under the system that exists. No system is perfect, but it ill behoves a FPTP MP to be pontificating that the WA is unrepresentative ...

On topic, surely any proposal to ban smacking would involve alktering the criminal law and thus be non devolved? Presumably they are intending to widen the definition of common assault to exclude the defence of reasonable chastisement in respect of minors. If this formed part of the Social Care Bill the whole bill would presumably be at risk of being struck down as ultra vires by the Supreme Court - so you can see why the WG is not eager to see it folded into their Bill - a seperate, standalone 'private members' bill would presumably be Gwenda's preference.

Smacking ban stands no chance in the Commons at present, but the result of a free vote in the Assembly might be tight. One could make the case for the issue to be seen as a conscience matter, although it's not quite identical to the generally accepted 'conscience' policy issues of abortion, capital punishment & sexual mores.

Glyn Davies said...

Democritus - I understand the issue of legal competence in respect of planning law - and believe Gwenda Thomas to be right is correct and sensible not to include a ban in her bill. An amendment would have to have been reversed by the full Assembly. My post was about how the Labour Party operates, using this issue as an example.

Democritus said...

Glyn,
Yes, understanding that smacking is 'probably' outside the compatence of the Assembly I get your point abt the LP, BUT it highlights another difference with the Assembly vis a vis Parliament. In the Commons, whilkst the deptartmental select committee might inquire into a Green Paper (draft Bill), once it becomes a proper Bill (i.e. recieves 2nd Reading) a Standing Committee is then formed to examine it in detail, line by line, comma and shall/may - and likewise in the other place ... the numbers in the Assembly simply do not exist to have such seperation. It wouldn't happen in Westminster simply because Julie, Jenny and Christine wouldn't have made it onto the Standing Committee!

Glyn Davies said...

Democritus - a fair point. Though I have been surprised that at Westminster, the whips placing MPs onto bill committees does not guarentee voting with the Government. I've sat only on one bill (Public Bodies Bill) and recall amendments being moved and supported by Gov't members, without them being removed.

Joao said...

This seems remarkably similar to a post on a well-known Labour blog:

http://labour-uncut.co.uk/2013/06/14/letter-from-wales-welsh-democracy-is-in-a-ruinous-state/#comments

What do you think? would love to hear your opinion...