Monday, March 20, 2006

The Three Bs

DESPITE his ability to tell it straight, First Minister Rhodri Morgan's rhetorical skill has a strange tendency of deserting him.
Last week he reminded AMs why he is the two-time winner of an award for gobbledegook when he said Plaid Cymru's analysis of the impact of EU money on Wales was “like saying, if my aunty was a bloke, she would be my uncle”.
His off-the-cuff remarks can go askew, but when they work they get to the heart of the matter more effectively than the soundbytes other politicians spend hours crafting.
In a recent interview he talked about “The Three Bs”. They are not a 1960s beat combo, but proof of Labour's record, he said. They are the bill, the building and the budget.
Labour's Government of Wales Bill will deliver the prospect of full law-making powers for the Assembly. Labour has built the magnificent (if intermittently leaky) Senedd for the Assembly. And Labour secured another £1 billion to spend on reviving Wales's poorest communities through the EU budget.
But can Mr Morgan claim credit for these?
When the bill was published Welsh Secretary Peter Hain said it was a red-letter day for Wales. Strange. I seem to remember Mr Morgan using the same phrase to mark the publication of the Richard Commission report which recommended a bigger and more powerful Assembly than envisaged in Labour's bill. The bill is a politically clever piece of legislation, but it does little to answer critics who say it slows the process of devolution because MPs fear seeing their power handed to the Assembly ministers who crave it. It's a skip after the hop, when some wonder whether Mr Morgan might have preferred to proceed straight to the jump.
When the full powers do eventually arrive, assuming a referendum can be won, the debating chamber of the new Senedd will expand. It has space to accommodate more than the current 60 AMs, should they be too few to cope with the augmented legislative workload appropriate for Welsh democracy's new home. Its Royal opening on St David's Day saw the First Minister at his oratorical best, even teasing a smile from the Queen with a self-deprecating speech. This was despite him initially opposing the building. Now he says he's a convert. His insistence that it was delivered on time and on budget depends on your interpretation of “on time” and “on budget”.
And the budget. I'm not sure what part Rhodri Morgan played in the negotiations for the EU budget deal which brought another round of financial aid to Wales when it was struck late last year. As far as I'm aware it was Angela Merkel who salvaged Tony Blair's offer of a revised EU spending plan. Should the people of Wales return their Labour AMs to Cardiff Bay because the German Chancellor decided to boost her standing by throwing her weight behind the Prime Minister of Great Britain?
To convince them they should Mr Morgan will need all the rhetorical skill he demonstrated as Royal jester on March 1.

No comments: