Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Theory of relativity

:: In case Conservative MP Derek Conway's difficulties have got you wondering, 15 AMs have declared on the register of members' interests that a family member or partner has worked for them during the third Assembly. That's one in four. A couple of others say they have partners who work for the Assembly itself or for the Assembly Government. Two, of course, are married to each other.

:: Impending financial doom is being reported everywhere today. The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors estimates 123 homes will be repossessed every day this year. The Bank of England is going to be allowed to offer secret help to failing banks to prevent another Northern Rock-style fiasco. Mortgage approvals are at a 12-year low. The Chancellor will need to raise taxes by £8 billion in his spring Budget to meet the Government's limit on national debt, the Institute of Fiscal Studies warns. And the US economy has had its slowest year since 2002 - fourth quarter GDP growth in 2007 was much lower than expected at 0.6%.
No wonder the Assembly Government now wants to see a better return on its big spending commitments. The nine years devolution has had to establish itself have been years of economic growth and massive public spending. A lean period would genuinely test the Assembly's value for money.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Plaid Conundrum

:: The smacking row and the resignation of Peter Hain reveal a tricky problem for Plaid Cymru and an opportunity for the Liberal Democrats.
There was a time when such a spectacle as the smacking row would have prompted a volcanic frenzy of anger from Plaid. "Look," you can almost hear them say. "Whitehall is bullying the Assembly."
Instead, the story catapulted the Welsh Liberal Democrats into the news as the only opposition party with the necessary pro-devolution credentials to cry foul.
A similar thing happened with the appointment of Paul Murphy to Welsh Secretary. Ieuan Wyn Jones, who once talked of Labour's "devolution dinosaurs", must now bite his ministerial tongue. No such problem for the Lib Dems, who steal an opportunity to speak up for devolution by talking down Mr Murphy.
If One Wales delivers a referendum, then none of this will matter and Plaid will continue to claim it is fueling the engine of devolution. Sometimes, however, that referendum seems like a pretty big if.

:: A Liberal Democrat briefing paper about the party's strategy in the Assembly has dropped into my inbox. Judging by who sent it and the list of other recipients - all Lib Dem staff - I can only assume I was sent it in error. There is usually a juicy scoop involved when a reporter gets to see something he is not meant to see. Luckily for the Lib Dems, the contents of this confidential document are too boring to report.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Training hard now

Posters around the Assembly are appealing for rugby players to take on the Houses of Commons and Lords in the annual match on February 2. The Assembly's team has been kitted out by a donation from First Great Western. As everyone naturally wants to be out of the showers before England kick off against Wales at Twickenham that afternoon, one assumes it was felt too dangerous to put the travel arrangements at the mercy of Britain's train network, whatever the largesse of its operators. The team bus leaves Crickhowell House at 7am.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Smacking ban slapped down

A Government-commissioned survey of 1,800 parents found 67% felt there should not be a complete ban on smacking children. This finding - tempered by the views of 64 children, most of whom thought corporal punishment had no place in modern childhood - prompted the Government to abandon a proposed smacking ban last October.

Why, then, does the Assembly Government want to ban smacking in Wales? The Assembly voted in favour of supporting a smacking ban in January 2004 by 41 votes to nine. But it is not in One Wales, nor is it in the manifestos put forward by Labour and Plaid Cymru in May. Does the Assembly know that Welsh parents hold a different opinion from that surveyed by the UK Government? Or does it have information which disproves the UK Government's assertion that the current law is working?

Or has this idea been chosen as a means to test the boundaries of the current law-making procedure and probe the limits of the maligned LCO system? Neither Whitehall nor Cathays Park know exactly how this new system will work. It will take some prodding by the Assembly Government to discover what exactly it can get from an LCO. If, in the process, ministers have to back down from introducing a smacking ban - something that was never their original intention - then so be it. Who knows, the impression of an overmighty London machine frustrating the will of the Assembly might hasten the arrival of the referendum on primary powers.

Badge of honour

It's bad news for brock. But given that the members of this inquiry included Lorraine Barrett and Brynle Williams, a cattle farmer, it is remarkable that today's report from the Rural Development Sub-Committee manages to say anything at all about badger culling. I am sure the powers that be will have noted this achievement by committee chairman Alun Davies.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Leak no evil

:: This morning, while walking through the Senedd, I noticed a bottle on the floor marked "Leak Detector". I suspect this piece of apparatus has more to do with rain than gossip in the tea room. All political establishments are familiar with leaks. But the Senedd must also contend with a leaky roof. Despite being open since early 2006, yellow signs next to puddles on the floor are still not uncommon after a good soaking.

:: A colleague recently returned from New York with a souvenir which he left on my desk. Said item has mysteriously disappeared. It could be knocking around my vast office somewhere, but if you see anyone in Cardiff Bay playing with a paper aeroplane from FAO Schwarz please let me know.