Tag Archives: wales

Who killed the rainbow?

An unseemly spat has broken out between Bethan Jenkins and Peter Black on Twitter:

PB: @bethanjenkins you were considering rainbow option weeks after LD exec vote. Your rejected it. Nothing delusional about that.
BJ: @peterblackwales- your party refused it before that.
PB: @bethanjenkins no it didnt Bethan.My party voted for it. Stop rewriting history.
BJ: @peterblackwales i think you are the one doing that.
PB: @bethanjenkins not at all. Review the events not the myths generated by your spin doctors.

…and so on. Speaking as an outsider, what surprises me is that this is even a matter of debate. The timetable of events is quite clear:

24 May 2009: Rainbow Coalition talks in disarray after Lib Dem NEC rejects the proposal on the chair’s casting vote.
25 May 2009: Rhodri Morgan reelected first minister unopposed.
26 May 2009: Special Lib Dem conference overturns executive decision.
27 June 2009: Labour and Plaid form “One Wales” coalition.

Now, you could argue a lot of things here. The first thing would be that the Lib Dems were badly split, chaotic, unreliable and not exactly broadcasting their fitness to govern. You could argue that Plaid were only doing the sensible thing from both Wales’ and their own best interests. If you did, I’d be inclined to agree with you. What you can’t argue however is that the Lib Dems were the ones to kill the rainbow coalition talks – that responsibility rests with Plaid and Plaid alone. If you read the quotes from both Mike German and Nick Bourne at the time the deal was struck, it is clear that both of them considered the Rainbow deal to still be on the table. It was Plaid who walked away.

I simply don’t understand why Bethan is denying responsibility here instead of taking pride in walking away from a deal which I sniffed of stitch up (at least from the Tories’ point of view – they hardly seemed to be negotiating at all). I suspect it has something to do with the fact that she doesn’t feel particularly proud of Plaid’s record in office.

But the other thing about this whole debacle worth noting is that what was bad for political parties was very good indeed for democracy. One of the common criticisms of proportional voting systems is that they lead to government being stitched up by people in the proverbial smoke-filled rooms. What the 2007 Welsh (and for that matter, Scottish) experience shows is that this is far from the case. The Welsh negotiations were held in public – too public for a lot of people’s liking. They took place over a period of weeks and the challenge was to sort out an agreement that best reflected how Wales as a whole had voted.

Contrast that with FPTP. Normally there are no formal coalition deals, to be sure. But since all parties are coalitions of interest, that isn’t to say there aren’t plenty of negotiations going on behind the scenes. But ultimately, as the typical Labour backbencher will agree (off the record and out of the earshot of the whips), their power is strictly limited. The real power lies in the party funders and the pollsters. With so much focused on winning those all-important swing votes in those all-important marginal seats, the number of people who have a real say in proceedings is just a handful.

To be sure, parties are dependent on funders and pollsters in elections regardless of the electoral system, but their role is much more limited. Parties have to fight for every vote instead of being forced to take most of their core vote for granted and the party or coalition which goes on to take office has to have a mandate from at least 50% of the electorate.

The negotiations surrounding the running of Wales in 2007 were not very attractive, but there is little doubt that process was a robust one.

Nine wishes for 2009 #1: Lembit Opik to prove me wrong

Partly, admittedly, because I set up a Google Alert of his name earlier this year during the Presidential election, Lembit Opik never stops getting in my face. His latest interview was in Wales On Sunday yesterday (odd since just a week ago Lembit was dismissing the same paper as “poor use of [his] time“). Regarding the presidential election, to the surprise of no-one, he is utterly unrepentent:

“I’ve been thinking about why the party establishment did not support me for the presidency. I put forward a new agenda, painting politics in primary colours, and perhaps they’re just not ready for it.

“I do politics in quite a distinctive way, and maybe they’re not comfortable with that kind of approach.

“I want us to be a party where we can express a strong corporate personality and strong individual personalities.

“Perhaps I frighten the horses, but the point is that, if you don’t, you’ll never create a political stampede.

“I do my best to reach out to the kind of people who don’t watch Question Time and Newsnight, and I think it would help politics if more politicians did so.”

But it wasn’t just the party establishment that didn’t support Lembit – it was 70+% of the party. Chris Huhne wasn’t supported by the establishment in either leadership contest he stood in, yet managed to leapfrog Simon Hughes in the first and came within 500 votes of winning the second. Are we all supposed to be mindless automatons?

What genuinely perplexes me about all this is that if Lembit could point to a single tangible fact which proved his hypothesis that appearing on Have I Got News For You was actually beneficial to the party, much of the criticism would be muted. The counter hypothesis is that a) most of the programmes he appears on either ignore politics altogether or advance an anti-politics agenda which Lembit himself does nothing to address and that b) while no-one can dispute the rise of Boris “LOL!!1!! LOOK AT HIS FUNNEE HAIR!!?!!” Johnson, Johnson never went within a million miles of half the paper-bag-opening-level programmes that are Lembit’s meat and drink and, frankly, when it comes to personality, Lembit is no Bozza. Have you ever seen a more polite, well-spoken individual on HIGNFY, Big Brother’s Little Brother or Celebrity Apprentice? The fundamental problem with Lembit’s celebrity appearances is that he doesn’t even make the most of them. In that respect, those who compare him to the Cyril Smiths and Clement Freuds of the past are missing the point.

But go on Lembit, prove me wrong in 2009. It is put up or shut up time. Because I can see how his grand master plan might work, I just don’t see it actually working.

If he is to do that however, he will have to embrace technology – something he has thus far managed to avoid in the way that 8 year old boys avoid baths. Oh, he bragged about his supporters on Facebook, many of whom appeared to be of the “LOL!!!1! LOOK AT HIS WONKEE CHIN!!!?!?!” variety, but that is a dead giveaway of someone who just doesn’t get technology. He doesn’t even have a website, or rather, he has *snigger* an ePolitix one, which is almost even worse. Even his Daily Sport column isn’t published online. So where do all these people who see Lembit on the television have to go? If they Google him, they’ll find a Wikipedia Page, a bland profile on the official party website, his defunct Presidential campaign website and a couple of videos. After that, it’s girls of a weathered and Cheeky variety all the way down. Lembit’s online “narrative” is written almost entirely by other people.

Iain Dale boasted 65,000 absolute unique visitors in November and 578,000 unique visitors in 2008. Given that only a fraction of Daily Sport readers will read Lembit’s column whereas almost all of Dale’s visitors are there because they want to be, those are figures that should give him pause for thought. If Lembit’s media appearances really do help him to reach out to people who would otherwise be unengaged, then he ought to be able to match and even beat Iain Dale’s readership in very little time at all.

It isn’t as if his target audience are somehow not online. Indeed, the people who Lembit claims to be reaching out to are over-represented on the web.

So what I’d really like to see in 2009 is a Lembit Opik blog to put us all in our places. If Lembit is right, then such a blog would climb to prominence quite quickly. What’s more, it would bridge the gap between the programmes he appears on and his politics. He’d win, his critics would be proven wrong but wouldn’t mind and the party would gain a major new asset. So how about it?

Who will be the next Welsh Lib Dem Leader?

I’ve written another Comment is Free article on this very subject:

Make no mistake: this election is no shoo-in for either candidate. They are both extremely strong contenders. At its heart, it has become quickly apparent that this election, more than any other in recent years, is going to be about what the Liberal Democrats are for. This isn’t merely a question of policy; it is a question about where the party strikes the balance between gaining power to change things and standing firm in its beliefs with a view to inspiring the electorate. There is real merit in both points of view and it is a question that, with a hung parliament still a possibility, the Lib Dems may yet end up have to answer at a UK level.

Where’s Lemby? Day Eleven

More Lembit news today, but none of it is very good.

First of all, the Western Mail reports that senior Welsh Lib Dem politicians are “snubbing” Lembit in favour of a “little-known candidate from England” (which is apparently a small place somewhere east of the Marches). Yet Lembit is apparently still standing, stating that:

“Party members can vote for whichever candidate they like. It’s called democracy and I support that. Ros Scott may have some supporters in Wales, but I have lots of people backing me in England.

“I believe I am the right person to become president. I am already the senior vice-president and chair meetings of the executive, of which I have been a member for 17 years.

“If people want a president with experience and determination who is inspirational, I believe they should vote for me.

“I travel round Britain to see members of the party all the time, which is why my car has 380,000 miles on the clock.

“I am standing in this election not on what I say I will do in the future, but on the record of what I have been doing in the party and will continue to do.”

But in a sign that he is a little irked about his lack of support, how’s this for a pout?

“I have done all the training for candidates within the party since 1990. I remember Kirsty Williams coming to a course I ran in the mid-1990s in the early stages of her career.

“I’m sure she is grateful for the help I gave her.”

Ouch. I’m sure she feels suitably put in her place now. Bloody girls.

Meanwhile, it appears that it isn’t just the Welsh who are less than sympathetic to Lembit’s cause. For the second month in a row he has come bottom of Lib Dem Voice’s Members’ Poll on the Shadow Cabinet:

Sarah Teather -14.6%
Roger Williams -14.6%
Michael Moore -20.8%
Nick Harvey -23.9%
Lembit Opik -35.4%

German fights to put off Welsh Leadership contest

My mole in Aberwystwyth has been bloody useless this morning and failed to notify me of Mike German’s decision on whether or not to restand as leader of the Welsh Assembly. To be fair, the mole was exactly right about what they throught German would say, and so it has passed. He has decided to restand (and presumably stand for the vacancy left by Lembit yesterday), but only on the basis of standing down again in 12 months.

Why the lame duck act? Simple: it’s called Operation Stop Peter. If Mike had stood down, the only viable candidate at the moment would have been Peter Black. If Mike hadn’t stood down, Peter would almost certainly have stood against him, and possibly would have won. With no-one else in the running (Eleanor Burnham has repeatedly implied she might stand but hasn’t been setting out her stall in the way Peter has, and as far as I can see lacks his power base), the idea would appear to be to create a 12 month “open vacancy” period with a view to persuading someone else to stand.

With only six Assembly Members, the options are a bit thin on the ground. Kirsty Williams is often sited as the heir to Excalibur but she hasn’t shown much enthusiasm for pulling the sword out of the stone thus far. This is partly because she has a young family, but if this is the case her youngest will still be 2 in 2008 (at least according to that unimpeachable font of all knowledge Wikipedia). The only other option that I’ve heard people mention is Jenny Randerson.

So we must hope that a transitionary period will work and that a strong challenger will emerge from it. In the meantime, we must hope that an essentially rudderless Assembly party will not cause significant problems for the Welsh local elections next May; I suspect it will be effectively neutral, neither helping nor hurting local parties’ chances of making serious inroads and defending their territory. But it will only work in the long run if the potential candidates start sticking their heads above the parapet and begin to engage in a debate on the party’s future.

Rear end analysis from Comment is Free

Okay, let’s get the blindingly obvious out of the way first. The Lib Dems are in trouble. We are floundering in the polls. Lewis Baston has a fair assessment of our woes over on Comment is Free.

Sadly, Iain Macwhirter has also decided to have a go. Aside from the blindingly obvious – that our stock isn’t all that high at the moment – it would appear that there is no point so large that Macwhirter isn’t capable of missing. Of course, accusing him of being stupid (which is of course what he calls us) would be unfair, since he is really being disingenuous. But it disappoints me that this is what passes for analysis these days.

First of all, he makes the following claim about why the Lib Dems failed to go into coalition government in Wales:

The Welsh Lib Dems were offered a share in a nationalist-led coalition in Cardiff, but pulled out at the last moment after the party executive was leaned on by the UK leadership. “Alliance with Plaid Cymru?” said Sir Ming’s minders. “Never! Unthinkable! The Liberal Democrats are a unionist party, always will be.”

Oh really? Knowing many of the individuals involved, if there had been the slightest hint of central interference here, they would have raised a shit storm. The one thing that might have convinced Peter Black to support coalition would have been the sense that Ming was pushing him the other direction.

There are a great many reasons why we failed to negotiate an acceptable package in Wales – a clear sense of identity and vision for Wales being the main one – but to blame Ming is an accusation too far.

Meanwhile, the Tory leader, David Cameron, has been pinching Liberal Democrat clothes on the environment, green taxes, public services and personal politics. Cameron has even allowed himself to be described as “liberal”. This attempt to drive the Liberal Democrats out of Tory marginals in England has sent the party into a state of ideological confusion. It no longer knows whether it’s orange or green; or blue or red. The truth is: no one cares.

This paragraph makes no sense at all. Which party has been sent into a state of ideological confusion? If you are going to polemicise about a political party you should at least observe the rules of basic grammar.

Either way, the fact is it is the Tories who are in ideological turmoil at the moment. Even this argument about the EU referendum is small beer compared to the gladiatorial contests that have been going on at CCHQ. This Summer, Cameron has invented a new concept in British politics: the revolving door policy development tool. What you do is stick Zac Goldsmith, Ken Clarke, John Redwood and Iain Duncan Smith in a revolving door, spin it round really fast and then, when they’ve finished bashing into each other and falling over themselves, scoop up the resultant vomit and call it a manifesto.

By contrast, the one thing that Ming has been getting right is the development of a coherent set of policies. He doesn’t shout about them anything like enough (AND SHOUTING IS WHAT WE NEED AT THE MOMENT MING!), and I disagree with several of them, but we have a clearer idea of what we stand for now than we did during the last general election. Credit where it’s due: Ming has delivered here.

Just what are the Liberal Democrats for? They used to be about constitutional reform, about sharing power, about proportional representation.

Gosh this sounds familiar. I seem to remember writing an *ahem* award nominated blog post on the subject. Is it too much to expect these bozos to not go around plagiarising each other? No honour among thieves, clearly.

To reiterate for the hard of thinking: we’ve never been “about” any of those things – they are just convenient things that lazy drink soaked hacks who can’t be bothered to view politics through anything other than beer glasses label us as. Even PR has never been more to the party than a means to an end, which is to create a more liberal and equitable society.

They have lost the initiative to Gordon Brown and the SNP leader Alex Salmond, both of whom have launched “national conversations” on constitutional reform.

Splutter! Both of these “national conversations” thus far have been frustratingly thin on details. Salmond’s “white paper” on Scottish Governance even states that they have no idea how to conduct this “national conversation” and plan to consult widely on the matter (which, surely, is the role of a green paper?). They’ve made a couple of speeches, but neither of these men have yet demonstrated that their commitment to democratic renewal is anything more than skin deep.

Sir Ming Campbell’s call for a UK constitutional convention rings decidedly hollow after the Scottish Liberal Democrats refused to discuss setting up a constitutional convention in Scotland with the SNP.

This I’m sure Macwhirter knows to be a lie. At no point has Salmond discussed holding a convention; by contrast Nicol Stephen’s response to his white paper was to demand one. The opposite of truth is called a lie, is it not?

Just why the Liberal Democrats have opted for political oblivion is one of the great mysteries of modern politics. In Scotland, their manifesto was a near-perfect fit with the SNP’s on policies such as nuclear power, Trident, local income tax, Asbos, constitutional reform, renewable energy, taxation, student debt, class sizes and even Gaelic education. Yet they refused to sit down to discuss a Chilton with the SNP leader Alex Salmond unless he dropped his commitment to a referendum on independence – a referendum which was never going to happen anyway because the minority SNP would lose the vote on any referendum bill in Holyrood.

Simply not true. The deal on the table was to back a bill on a referendum or walk away. The Scottish Lib Dems, elected on a unionist ticket, chose to walk away. Salmond could have dropped the subject. He didn’t. End of. Why am I repeating myself? Because from now until the end of time SNP supporters no doubt will continue to peddle this airbrushed view of history. Well, that is until the steam begins to run out for Salmond’s minority administration. Then, I think you may just find him trotting up to Nicol Stephen with his tail tucked between his legs. We shall see.

Meanwhile, Alex “monkey” Hilton has been having a pop, making the bizarre claim that not ruling out a coalition with the Conservatives and capitulating to Labour’s every whim means that we must automatically be in favour of Cameron’s batty proposals for a fiscal marital aid. Er, what? So presumably we can’t not rule out a coalition with Labour without automatically accepting the need for ID cards, the moral righteousness of Brown and Blair’s war on Iraq and gimmicky policies on anti-social behaviour which have the opposite effect to what they’re supposed to do? I don’t think Alex undestands basic concepts like “negotiation” and “compromise”. He also seems to have missed the rather startling point that unless the Tories suddenly agree to PR (which, you know, might happen on Planet Zog), there’ll be no deal anyway.

Worryingly, I find myself agreeing with the Lib Dems’ critics all too often these days. Fingers must be pulled out, pronto. But where does the Guardian dig these people up from?

German, an Estonian and the Welsh

They do things funny in Wales. It’s just been announced that nominations for the leader of the Liberal Democrats in the Welsh Assembly have been opened, meaning that Mike German is liable to be challenged. With three AMs mooted – Peter Black, Eleanor Burnham and Kirsty Williams – not to mention Mike German himself, with just 6 AMs in total, things could get pretty interesting.

Either way, the contest is NOT to decide the leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats. That office is held by Lembit Opik MP. Until recently he was the Lib Dem spokesperson for Welsh affairs but now he’s the Shadow DBERR (crazy name, crazy department) Secretary. The Welsh spokesperson in the Commons is now Roger Williams.

Thus far, my prediction that Ming’s reshuffle would lead to Lembit making way for someone else has failed to come true. With the election for Assembly Leader now underway however, now is the perfect time. I makes no sense whatsoever to have both a party leader and a separate spokesperson in the Commons and holding the elections for both (effectively one contest unless an MP decides to stand for Party Leader) would save a lot of time, confusion and money: how about it Lembit?

Lembit must resign!!!

Seriously, although I am of course referring to his leadership of the party rather than is status as MP for Montgomeryshire. It’s nothing personal, but as I said last week, the Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats can’t be a separate post from the party’s Shadow Welsh Secretary in the Commons and the Leader of the Assembly Group. And, while I consider the Plaid-Labour coalition to be the best option for Wales under the circumstances, it is a coalition that will quite probably be measured in months rather than years. The new Welsh Party leader needs to have his or her feet under the table before it all goes pear-shaped.

Frankly, I’m a bit surprised he hasn’t already quit. We should possibly give him the benefit of the doubt and leave it until after the by-elections (it might cause a distraction otherwise), but really does need to happen soon. If he hasn’t jumped by the 23rd, I may have to start getting shouty.