How Long is One Generation?

It came to light recently that the Labour Party in Wales is moving towards the devolution of further powers to Wales. The nature of the offer is covered in more detail elsewhere, but one thought on Owen Smith’s comments got me digging through the archives.

Mr Smith – Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, no less – is quoted as saying:

While devolution will evolve we are getting closer to the end game

Servini

I wonder how much he knows about the history of Labour Party activity in this area?

It was the blink of an eye in political terms when someone else – as it happens, someone mentioned in Nick Servini’s immediately preceding tweet – expressed a firm opinion about the state of devolution in Wales:

The Welsh Assembly will not need further devolution for another generation… Whatever changing circumstances we face over coming years there will be no case for a successor Government of Wales [Act] in the decades to come

The omission of the word [Act] from the quote might have been a slip of the tongue. Or he might have been quite serious that no Government of Wales other than the one in place in 2006 (Labour) has a place in Wales regardless of “changing circumstances”.

Anyway, Peter might want to try explaining the futility of his work to Paul Silk, and of course to the Liberal Democrats who wrought the Silk Commission as part of the coalition agreement with the Conservatives.

Of course, Peter Hain’s got a great track record in political fortune telling. After all, he did tell us that the 2011 referendum bestowing primary legislative powers on the National Assembly for Wales couldn’t be won under:

any [foreseeable] circumstances

I suppose in one respect Owen Smith is correct. After all, any further devolution of powers is closer to the end-game if the end is federation, independence or ‘more devolution’.

Which of these comes under Owen Smith’s definition of foreseeable circumstances?

1 Sylw

Filed under Democracy, Labour, Liberal Democrats, Welsh Government, Westminster

Cogan Inaction

Isn’t it about time I ruffled the feathers again? After all, it’s been well over a year since I last took the Vale Council to task – yet again – over their desire to poison the good people of Cogan. At that time I said:

This decision is not before time. I pointed out here that the air pollution in Cogan has been beyond European legal limits since at least 2006:

What on earth is going on here? What have the people of Windsor Road done to deserve such negligence? The Vale’s forecasting and reporting has been chronically optimistic year after year after year after year after year afteryear after year, and the pollution load – particularly at the 154 Windsor Road station – has consistently breached European limits set down in the Ambient Air Quality Directive. And the Vale Council has done absolutely nothing to remedy the situation.

I even went as far as to ask the Welsh Government why no action had been taken – you can see their response and my analysis here:

I don’t very much care for the idea of Penarth taxpayers shelling out their share of millions of pounds in European Commission fines for the Vale’s failure to take air pollution seriously. But I care even less for the idea that the residents of Cogan are being subject to illegal pollution loadings year after year after year because councillors in the Vale haven’t had the gumption to confess there’s a problem.

It turns out that some other people have been digging around in relation to the Vale’s willingness to get stuck in to declaring an Air Quality Management Area for Cogan. Because CG has sent me an email, received from the Vale on 15 March 2013. The Vale said:

Our consultation included a recommendation to declare an Air Quality Management Area (AQMA) for the area identified as likely to exceed the NO2 annual average objective. The responses from this consultation are now being considered and over the next few months a further Report will be presented to the Council’s Cabinet recommending a way forward

Then in December CG received the following notification:

Since the declaration of the AQMA earlier this year…

Whoa! So we have official confirmation that an Air Quality Management Area exists for Windsor Road as it runs through Cogan. Well blow me down, surely that deserves trumpeting on the Vale of Glamorgan website.

But funnily enough, this is the latest news you’ll find on the Vale’s website:

The Council have identified that nitrogen dioxide emissions from road traffic are likely to exceed healthy limits set by the regulations. We are also monitoring what is known as particulate matter and our results suggest that we need to carry out more sophisticated monitoring to further check these concentrations… In the Spring of 2013 we will review the evidence and comments from the consultation and make a decision on declaring your area an AQMA.

And even more peculiarly, the Vale doesn’t show up on Defra’s map of local authorities with AQMAs, nor is it listed in their directory. And, before you ask, it doesn’t exist in the list of local authorities whose AQMAs have been revoked.

So either the Vale’s officials are lying to their own constituents and salary-payers, or the officials are withholding information from their lords and masters in Whitehall.

Well I have to confess to being slightly cheered by the discovery that the Vale isn’t lying to us, friends. Because the Cabinet minutes for the meeting of 1 July 2013 approved this report, which instigated an AQMA as from 1 June 2013, which was a full month before the meeting that approved it. Details, details.

So why doesn’t Defra know about this? There are a few possible explanations, not all of which paint the Vale in such a bleak light. They may well have told everyone all about it. For sure, you’d never know what the Welsh Government was thinking on this issue. Believe me, I’ve crawled all over their website and just about the only mention you’ll find of air quality (unless you happen to live in Port Talbot) is the helpful definition that it is “a measure of how good our air is”. Certainly you’ll find the Welsh Government barely speaks of such vulgarities as Air Quality Management Areas.

So perhaps Defra does know about it but is just that incompetent that a full eight months after the designation date has failed to update its website. It’s difficult to be more confident where the greater incompetence lies: the Vale or Defra. One thing’s for sure, by the time you read this post, an email will have winged its way to Defra asking for their side of the story.

And in the meantime, we can all relax, because the Vale had 12 months to bring forward its Air Quality Management Plan from the date of designation. I’m looking forward to delving into that tome no later than 31 May.

Finally, in case the crew down Barry Docks don’t realise, this is an election issue. Either that, or you’ll need to find an alternative psephological analysis for why the vote for the incumbents in Cornerswell ward decreased by 53% in 2012:

… could the hint of a constituency scandal – the incumbent Conservatives having been complicit in the Vale of Glamorgan choking residents of Cogan – have made erstwhile Conservative voters simply unable to bring themselves to vote for the negligent pair of Dorothy Turner and John Fraser?

If there’s even the slightest hint of truth in that, then this May has served notice that negligent or incompetent councillors can expect to pay a heavy price come election time.

3 Sylw

Filed under Cogan, Democracy, Pollution, Vale of Glamorgan Council, Welsh Government

Devolving Criminal Justice

This issue has sprung to life recently. By and large, most of us aren’t that preoccupied with constitutional affairs. It’s why there was such a low turn-out in the referendum on Part IV of the Governance of Wales Act (the one that vested certain law-making powers at the National Assembly for Wales). That’s right, the 2011 referendum the omniscient Peter Hain said couldn’t be won under “any [foreseeable] circumstances“.

So when people are asked by polling companies whether or not they would like to see criminal justice devolved to Wales, you’d hardly expect them to be gripped by fevered enthusiasm. For starters, I’m not sure I understand what’s encompassed by criminal justice, and I’m something of an anorak. Just how detailed Dai Jones Cwmbach’s knowledge of criminal justice is we can only speculate.

So it’s not a terrific surprise to see that in one of the only comprehensive polls asking the question, just 37% of people in Wales would like to see “the courts and criminal justice system” devolved.

But that may be about to change.

Because it turns out that on occasion the Home Office has decided that Wales is a good place to rehouse criminals convicted of serious offences. Criminals with no former connection to Wales, that is.

I was first alerted to this issue by Paul Flynn, who has written to the Home Secretary to complain following the news that a London gang leader at “serious risk of reoffending” has been rehoused in Newport.

And just days later, WelshNotBritish, in a blogpost titled with characteristic finesse, has uncovered the news that Gavin Benit, a convicted sex offender from Oldham, was “placed” in a flat in Colwyn Bay.

I mentioned earlier on that “on occasion” the Home Office has rehoused serious offenders in Wales. We can be reasonably confident that those occasions number no less than two.

But is there something more systemic going on here? Is the Home Office rehousing serious offenders in Wales as a matter of course? And is this one of the benefits of our criminal justice remaining a reserved matter? After all, Cheryl Gillan as Secretary of State for Wales stated:

I understand that the Welsh Government is planning a consultation on the establishment of a single legal jurisdiction for Wales. But why?

“What is the problem that needs addressing? How would such a change benefit people or business in Wales?

“The pitfalls of a separate legal jurisdiction for Wales, and consequent devolution of the entire criminal justice system, are glaringly obvious. I see no case for changing the current system for England and Wales, which has served Wales well for centuries.

Perhaps those opposing the devolution of criminal justice to Wales, such as Cheryl Gillan, would like to speak to the 15-year old girl raped by Gavin Benit to find out just how such a change would “benefit people or business in Wales”.

It’s why constitutional affairs should bother everyone in Wales, even Dai Jones Cwmbach.

4 Sylw

Filed under Conservatives, Democracy, Police, Welsh Government, Westminster

Coastal Glamorgan

This is my name for a new local authority that encompasses what is currently Neath Port-Talbot, Bridgend and Vale of Glamorgan. And if we don’t adopt it – or something like it – then Penarth can kiss goodbye to the remotest influence in any decisions of significance for the long-term future.

Sounds dramatic?

That’s because the implications of Penarth, and the rest of the Vale, being sucked into Cardiff (that’s what the new authority will be called – let’s not be under any misapprehension of the name of the new Vale plus Cardiff authority) are fairly dire.

Consider, if you will, this new metropolitan mega-authority. On current figures, it will have a population of 475,324 (348,493 +126,831). The Vale’s contribution is a paltry 26.7%.

Cardiff currently maintains 75 councillors. That’s 1 councillor for every 4,650 electors. The Vale has 47, or 1 per 2,700.

Now I’m not going to defend our generous comparative representation. In fact I’m in broad agreement with Electoral Reform Society Cymru, which wants to reduce the number of local authority councillors and increase the number of Assembly Members. But anyone who thinks that Penarth’s needs – or indeed those anywhere in the Vale – are going to be represented to any significant degree in the new super-authority is seriously misguided.

There are also implications for planning and new housing. Cardiff’s councillors will be licking their lips at the prospect of the Vale’s green fields absorbing much larger proportions of Cardiff’s proposed growth in the coming decades. Why should they risk electoral unpopularity in the few remaining undeveloped parts of Cardiff when they can direct new developments to the Vale? Let’s not forget that the Vale’s representation in the new authority is going to be one-quarter of the total.

And poor old Penarth. With our 30,000 population we’re going to become an insignificant part of the new uber-authority, equivalent in size to Ely plus Llanishen.

So how will Coastal Glamorgan solve these ailments?

The population of this authority will be 406,679 (139,740 + 140,108 + 126,831). The Vale’s contribution in population terms would be 31.2% of the total – but will be a shade under one-third of a triple-authority.  Pulling equal weight in this new authority with former neighbours from Bridgend and Neath Port-Talbot would mean no part having an overbearing influence. Equal representation, not becoming smothered by the city slickers.

But the population of Coastal Glamorgan would be greater than Cardiff. And that could be of economic benefit, because according to some economists, the size of an area’s population (agglomeration) is important in generating added productivity. And why shouldn’t Cardiff go it alone? After all, it’s apparently good enough for Swansea, Powys, and Carmarthenshire.

In terms of new housing, the Vale would be partnered with two authorities that are not experiencing rapid population growth. The housing allocation would be fit for the needs of the Vale plus these two other authorities, not made to fit the needs of a fast-growing capital city.

And as for Penarth. Wouldn’t it be better to be Coastal Glamorgan’s eastern gateway town to the capital city, rather than a nameless, faceless suburb of Cardiffshire?

5 Sylw

Filed under Democracy, Equality, Housing, Vale of Glamorgan Council, Welsh Government

The Plaid-Lib Dem Minority Administration

Forgive me for mining this seam to its very end. Because there is at least this one more interpretation to Adam Price’s contention that Plaid and the Lib Dems could form the next government: the Minority Administration.

It’s currently unthinkable that Labour would band together with the Conservatives to frustrate a potential Plaid-Lib Dem coalition – despite amusing reference to at least one local authority configuration as a ‘Nazi-Soviet pact’.

So in order to form a minority administration, the maths tells us that:

  • Total seats under consideration = 60 – Conservatives
  • And Plaid + Lib Dem = Labour +1

For simplicity’s sake, let’s assume that the Conservatives gain an identical number of seats in 2016 as in 2011: 14. That’s unlikely, and we’ll examine the implications below. But were that the case, it would leave 46 seats up for grabs. And that would mean the Plaid-Lib Dem coalition would need 24 seats between them. Perhaps we’re starting to enter the realm of possibility rather than fantasy?

I’m going to make the same assumption as in the previous post for the Lib Dems, namely that they’ll bag six seats. That means that Plaid would need 18.

So the first task is to assume that all 18 would need to come from constituencies. That feat would see them ripping seats such as Swansea West, Wrexham, Cynon Valley and, yes, Rhondda, from Labour. Perhaps Plaid could more realistically expect seats such as Islwyn and Torfaen to fall than Wrexham and Clwyd South. And if we were to delve into the detail, we’d realise that Plaid would have to take seats almost exclusively from Labour, rather than the Conservatives in Clwyd West and Preseli Pembrokeshire. That’s the result of each seat lost by Conservatives ironically making it more difficult to form a minority administration, because according to the formula, the Conservative bloc reduces the number of seats required by Plaid-Lib Dem.

On that assumption, Plaid would need the following 18 constituencies:

  1. Ynys Môn – held with 42.3% majority
  2. Arfon – held with 30.5% majority
  3. Dwyfor Meirionnydd – held with 26.1% majority
  4. Carmarthen East & Dinefwr – held with 14.9% majority
  5. Ceredigion – held with 6.1% majority
  6. Llanelli – 0.3% behind 1st place
  7. Carmarthen West & South Pembrokeshire – 6.2% behind
  8. Caerphilly – 19.3% behind
  9. Aberconwy – 7.7% behind
  10. Neath – 26.8% behind
  11. Clwyd South – 23.8% behind
  12. Cardiff West – 27.1% behind
  13. Rhondda – 33.7% behind
  14. Cynon Valley – 34.8% behind
  15. Swansea West – 31.4% behind
  16. Islwyn – 36.2% behind
  17. Torfaen – 34.0% behind
  18. Pontypridd – 37.3% behind

The eagle-eyed amongst you will have noticed that in this scenario Plaid are scooping two constituencies each in South Wales East and South Wales West, which at a stretch could permit a regional seat in one or both. However, Plaid have also reduced the Conservatives’ constituencies by two, which means the total needed for the minority administration will be 25, which in turn brings one seat from the following into the mix: Montgomeryshire, Cardiff Central, Vale of Glamorgan, Gower, Ogmore or Penarth & Cardiff Central. Who said this was going to be easy?!

This minority administration is the only vaguely feasible scenario in which Labour will not be forming the next government. And ‘vaguely feasible’, in this analysis, has ignored the increasing likelihood of UKIP reaping list seats (five, according to Roger Scully). Although it’s too early to be making space for UKIP in these analyses, any new formula would look like this:

  • Total seats under consideration = 60 – (Conservatives + UKIP)
  • And Plaid + Lib Dem = Labour +1

The minority report for Adam Price and his team just got harder.

Rhowch sylw

Filed under Democracy, Elections, Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, Welsh Government

The Plaid-Lib Dem Coalition

It came to me during the previous post that Adam Price is much better informed about politics than myself. That means that he must consider it a possibility of some sort that Plaid will be able to lead a Plaid-Lib Dem coalition in Cardiff Bay.

Let’s look at the stats.

Many commentators expect the Lib Dems to receive a kicking in 2015, with even some Lib Dems forecasting grim news. But by 2016 – assuming  they’re not in government in Westminster – it’s entirely possible that their prospects will have improved. A year is a very long time in politics.

Looking back at the Lib Dem target seats we can see that they have just three seats that are winnable on a swing of 10% or less. Unfortunately for them, those three need a swing from three different parties. And given that Plaid – in this scenario – will need to win lots of seats, I’ll discount Ceredigion. That would mean they’d gain Cardiff Central and Montgomeryshire, but at least one of these, if not both, would rip a list seat from out of their grasp. Given that they are at least 20% behind first place in every other seat, I’m going to assume that the maximum coalition contribution from the Lib Dems is their traditional high-water mark of six seats.

That leaves the simple task for Plaid to take 25 seats.

The maths isn’t great in this scenario. Firstly, both Montgomeryshire and Cardiff Central are within Plaid’s 25 top constituencies. That would push the seats needed up to numbers 26 and 27: Gower, and Penarth & Cardiff South. Secondly, there is still no chance of list seats being available for Plaid, because they’re still looking for at least three seats in South Wales East. The question to ask, therefore, is: is it likely that Plaid will win seats such as Penarth & Cardiff South while not both:

  • Picking up Montgomeryshire and Cardiff Central, and
  • Damaging the Lib Dem vote sufficiently to erode their list seat potential, bearing in mind that for Plaid to have this level of dominance, Labour will presumably be heavily dependent on list seats for representation

The logical conclusion is that the Lib Dems are unlikely to be in a position to be useful coalition partners. Plaid stand almost as much chance of outright victory as they do of leading a coalition with the Lib Dems.

So was Adam’s gesture a way of reaching out to disaffected Lib Dem voters, rather than a realistic, calculated scenario?

1 Sylw

Filed under Democracy, Elections, Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, Welsh Government

Seizing Power in Cardiff Bay: Plaid

And so to the final post in this series. How will Plaid manage to do what their sister party did in Scotland – bearing in mind that the proportional representation element of elections in Wales provides a less fair allocation of seats than it does up north?

This list is in order of the most likely to be held/fall first (see this post for the reasoning of the target seats). I’m going to make the assumption that they’ll need to do it in the absence of any regional/list seats – and you’ll see why from the complexion of the seats they need to win. Plaid’s worst-performing electoral region is South Wales East, but they still need to pick up three seats here in order to get a majority. It’s difficult to imagine that they’ll get list seats in this or any other region under those circumstances.

  1. Ynys Môn – held with 42.3% majority
  2. Arfon – held with 30.5% majority
  3. Dwyfor Meirionnydd – held with 26.1% majority
  4. Carmarthen East & Dinefwr – held with 14.9% majority
  5. Ceredigion – held with 6.1% majority
  6. Llanelli – 0.3% behind 1st place
  7. Carmarthen West & South Pembrokeshire – 6.2% behind
  8. Caerphilly – 19.3% behind
  9. Aberconwy – 7.7% behind
  10. Clwyd West – 20.3% behind
  11. Neath – 26.8% behind
  12. Clwyd South – 23.8% behind
  13. Cardiff West – 27.1% behind
  14. Rhondda – 33.7% behind
  15. Preseli Pembrokeshire – 26.9% behind
  16. Cynon Valley – 34.8% behind
  17. Wrexham – 30.9% behind
  18. Swansea West – 31.4% behind
  19. Islwyn – 36.2% behind
  20. Delyn – 33.5% behind
  21. Torfaen – 34.0% behind
  22. Montgomeryshire – 32.4% behind
  23. Pontypridd – 37.3% behind
  24. Cardiff Central – 30.5% behind
  25. Vale of Glamorgan – 35.3% behind
  26. Gower – 36.0% behind
  27. Penarth & Cardiff South – 38.2% behind
  28. Ogmore – 47.3% behind
  29. Aberavon – 49.3% behind
  30. Vale of Clwyd – 39.4% behind
  31. Swansea East – 46.0% behind

For the sake of argument, let’s imagine that Plaid managed to grab a list seat in South Wales East plus 30 constituency seats. That would mean they wouldn’t need to win Swansea East, for example. But they’d still need to be winning seats where they’re nearly 50% behind first place. Is the picture hopeless for Plaid?

As with the other two opposition parties, we’re looking for a seismic shift in Welsh politics. But unlike for the Lib Dems or Conservatives, Plaid can hold out a glimmer of hope.

An opinion poll conducted by ICM on behalf of the BBC found that the proportion of people in Wales inclined towards independence would increase by 5% (from 7% to 12%) if Scotland votes for independence in 10 months’ time. And perhaps even more interestingly, if you delve into the detail of that poll, you’ll find that pro-independence sentiment is substantially stronger in younger age groups. So while the former suggests that a block shift could happen in the short term, the latter indicates that in the longer term, Plaid may be looking at a generational shift in their favour.

So what would an increase of, say 5% in Plaid’s share of the vote mean? Well, the block shift isn’t seismic. On the list above, it would mean Llanelli falling into Plaid’s lap, with Carmarthen West and Aberconwy coming within reach. But gaining Llanelli would spell the end for Simon Thomas as a regional member for mid and west Wales.

Of course, that 5% of votes has to come from somewhere. So it would also reduce some of the huge majorities currently facing Plaid. Seats such as Neath and Clwyd West and South would need in the order of a further 7-10% swing to come Plaid’s way. Doable? Possibly.

Clearly independence for Scotland, while having an influence, isn’t going to be enough on its own.

So if we’re ruling out the tectonic possibility for now, how else could it happen? The simple answer is that it couldn’t. With the best candidates in Wales grafting around the clock from now until 2016, seats like Aberavon, Swansea East and our beloved Penarth & Cardiff South are going to stay exactly where they are now: safe Labour territory.

Which brings us back to coalition government as the only viable route for Plaid to exert Ministerial influence in Wales in the foreseeable future. And that in turn means one of the following:

  • Coalition with Labour – presumably unlikely after the last such experience
  • Coalition with Lib Dems alone – highly improbable given the Lib Dems’ problems – despite what Adam Price thinks
  • The rainbow coalition with Lib Dems and Conservatives – ruled out by current Plaid leader Leanne Wood on account of the Conservatives (or as Roger Scully puts it: “Leanne Wood entering a coalition with the Conservatives currently looks about as likely as one of the Rev Ian Paisley’s daughters becoming Pope”)

So where does that leave politics in Wales?

Labour government – either minority or majority – for the foreseeable future.

2 Sylw

Filed under Democracy, Elections, Plaid Cymru, Welsh Government