In many ways this is the easiest electoral strategy of the lot. Man the barricades and fight like dogs! All the winnable seats in Penarth have already been won by Labour in Penarth, so it’s simply a case of keeping hold of them.
But hold on – since when has my ambition for any political party been so limited?! And most importantly, how about the irrelevance effect. That is, the total ignorance of Welsh elections (particularly local authority elections) by the UK media that I referred to extensively here.
So let’s start off by examining once again the issue of broadcasting and how it affects elections in Wales.
The fate of members in the Vale is entirely bound up in the relative popularity of [the Labour and Conservative] parties in Westminster…
Does that make depressing reading? I think so. It means that in Penarth, no matter how hard you try to be a good councillor, the effort is irrelevant. All that counts – at least, for candidates from the Labour and Conservative parties – is how well your party is faring at Westminster. What a fickle bunch we are!
Part of the reason for this is that local elections in Wales are viewed with total irrelevance by the British (read English) media. And since it’s from the British media that most people in Wales derive their news, it’s hardly surprising that turnout in local elections here is so abysmal (39% in 2012). So what does that mean for councillors? The answer to that question depends on whether you’re a ‘good’ councillor or a ‘bad’ one.
So as with the Conservatives, those ‘good’ Labour councillors should be casting one eye forwards to 2017 and influencing their party to push for devolution of broadcasting. And parties committed to ‘good’ governance – at least insofar as it relates to broadcasting and the influence of broadcast media on the day-to-day lives of people in Wales – should likewise be demanding devolution of broadcasting.
The Labour Party didn’t make any representation to the Silk Commission. Some commentators have suggested that this failure was more to do with the horrific internal schisms in that party than because Labour could theoretically dress the Welsh Government’s response up as their own. But a little bird also tells me that the Conservative Party is badly riven by similar pressures, with the Welsh Conservative Party by and large wanting more powers for Wales and the UK Conservative Party – top dog always – quashing any hope that the official Conservative submission would represent the desires of the Welsh Conservatives. Confused? Me too.
But let’s give Labour the benefit of the doubt and assume that the Welsh Government submission can be taken to be representative of the Labour Party (which would of course be a misuse of public funds – but never mind). This is the full extent of Labour’s thinking on broadcasting:
Culture should remain central to the Assembly’s legislative competence, but the Welsh Government does not agree with those who argue that, within this field, Broadcasting should now be devolved. Television and radio now form just one element of a much wider range of platforms for digital communications. In a rapidly evolving digital environment we do not believe that it would be sensible now to attempt to devolve responsibility for broadcasting or certain elements of broadcasting. The vital role that broadcasting institutions play in creating a common
cultural citizenship for people across the UK would not be strengthened by any attempt to divide responsibility for broadcasting institutions among its constituent parts. However, we acknowledge that the broadcasting landscape is changing
rapidly. There is no guarantee that the structures currently in place will remain in the future, and the Welsh Government will respond according to developments. We do however believe that this vital UK role can in the meantime be reinforced by measures aimed at strengthening the particular contribution which the broadcasters make in each of those constituent parts. We also believe that it is essential to improve the accountability of UK broadcasting institutions to the National Assembly and to Welsh viewers and listeners. This improved accountability can best be
delivered by strengthening the position of Welsh Ministers with regard to appointments made to the regulatory bodies governing broadcasting in Wales. We make specific proposals about this below.
Others have already remarked on the appropriateness – or otherwise – of the purpose of national broadcasting being “the creation of a common cultural citizenship” for the UK. And there’s an element of cognitive dissonance here too. If a common cultural citizenship is so important, why would you want to strengthen the contribution that broadcasters make in the constituent parts of the UK? What does that even mean?
But the truly disappointing element is the belief that the “best” way to ensure that broadcasters are fully accountable to Welsh viewers and listeners is to shove a few Welsh appointees onto the bodies regulating broadcasting. Hands up who thinks that this – even if it were granted – would result in full coverage of local elections in Wales by UK broadcasters?
So how about the Conservatives? How strong is their commitment to the development of local democracy in Wales?
Well, the Welsh Conservative Party’s hefty submission weighs in at a full 2 pages and doesn’t mention broadcasting. But more interesting is the “Welsh Conservative Group” (which means their Assembly Members). This is what they say about broadcasting:
Key political decisions in relation to broadcasting in Wales continue to be made at a UK level by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). However, public service broadcasters
have an obligation to meet certain requirements in relation to output, much of which relates to competencies which are already devolved (such as the Welsh language, education and the
economy). The Group feels this provides an anomaly which the Commission might address as part of this Review.
It is the Group’s belief that broadcasters should be accountable to the Assembly for their work in these devolved areas. To this end, we are supportive of a mechanism for joint accountability
to both the Assembly and the UK Parliament. The principle of joint responsibility is in existence already in relation to cross-border issues, so the Group deem this a practical approach.
The Group is mindful of the strength of arguments which exist against devolving broadcasting. We feel our suggestion addresses an anomaly regarding accountability, whilst building a body of evidence, based on practical experience, which can inform the debate on whether further devolution of broadcasting is valuable.
My reading of that is that the proposal for ‘joint accountability’ is stronger than Labour’s pleading for an appointment here or there. And there’s also a stronger sense that broadcasting could be devolved in the future, depending on the evidence. Not that basing devolution on evidence has necessarily been the Conservatives’ strong point.
For completeness let’s look at Plaid’s submission:
Broadcasting is of crucial economic and cultural importance. However, responsibility is centralised at Westminster. This has created a democratic deficit between the National Assembly for Wales and the Welsh media. We believe that this deficit can best be remedied by the full devolution of broadcasting to the National Assembly for Wales. [Further details follow].
And here’s what the Lib Dems have to say:
Given the traditional UK-wide remit of broadcasting in the United Kingdom, current financial arrangements for BBC Wales and S4C, and the inability to retain broadcast signals within Wales, we do not support the complete devolution of broadcasting to Wales.
We would prefer to see…
A single ITV licence to be created which covers all of Wales and no other area and the Welsh government to be involved in licensing decisions.
Community Radio licensing to be devolved to Wales, given that
these are predominantly local in nature and that the Welsh
government has already established a Community Radio Fund.
Perhaps it doesn’t need stating that the future of devolution in Wales is irrelevant to UKIP and the Greens.
As you’d expect, given the thought process I’ve gone through on our local elections, I’m with Plaid on this one. The Liberal Democrats have a more devolutionist stance than the the Conservatives, while the Labour Party is moving almost nowhere on this issue. Is that an indication of the importance that the parties attach to local elections? Impossible, given that local councillors are the bedrock of the Labour Party. Is it an indication of the desire (or lack of) to reward ‘good’ councillors and reveal the shirkers? You decide.
I said at the start that I’m going to be ambitious for Labour and assess how they can win all the Penarth/Sully seats. Top of the list needs to be putting up a full slate of candidates. I was as surprised as anyone that they only managed to put up one candidate in Sully last time round.
And how about a bit of campaigning and door-knocking in the posher parts of town (do send your electoral material to penartharbyd[a]gmail.com to highlight your activity)? With 6 councillors already being paid by the good burghers of the Vale to do their business in and around town, surely asking them to knock on a few doors once a fortnight isn’t beyond the pale? After all, Labour can’t have conceded that there are genuine no-go areas in Penarth?