Monthly Archives: Mawrth 2013

Electoral Strategy for Labour 2017

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.

It just so happens that we can now see exactly what the various parties in Wales think about devolving broadcasting, because the responses to the Silk Commission have just been published.

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?

1 Sylw

Filed under Conservatives, Democracy, Elections, Labour, Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, Welsh Government, Westminster

An Anti-Welsh Diatribe

I don’t ordinarily go in for this sort of article. But this story has relevance for two reasons. Firstly, it relates to Natural Resources Wales, which is a topic I’ve covered before. Secondly, there’s a juicy element of hypocrisy, which I like to root out wherever it rears its mendacious snout. It happened across my desk on St. David’s Day, too, and I think that the big man himself would be happy for me to raise this issue. So it’s thanks to GC for alerting me to this story and passing on the details.

Natural Resources Wales (NRW) is currently consulting on a Welsh Language Scheme. And someone I’ll call BL has made a number of assertions in her response to the consultation:

Assertion 1: The proposed Welsh Language Scheme discriminates against the English language.

Firstly, the paper states two guiding principles that I believe are unbalanced:

“• In Wales, the Welsh language should be treated no less favourably than the English language

• Persons in Wales should be able to live their lives through the medium of the Welsh language if they choose to do so”.

While I agree with both of these principles, it is clear that you have omitted the same principles that would balance Welsh with English. Principles such as: ‘In Wales, the English language should be treated no less favourably than the Welsh language’, or ‘Persons in Wales should be able to live their lives through the medium of the English language if they choose to do so’. Alternatively, ‘In Wales, the Welsh and English language should be treated equally’. Even though you are supposed to be treating them equally according to the Welsh Language Act (1993), this oversight clearly fails to establish equality of language, and it is obvious by these two principles that the Welsh language is being favoured and English discriminated against.

The clue’s in the title. This is a Welsh Language SchemeNot an English Language Scheme. In fact, if BL wants to get really excited, she should pick a fight with the Welsh Language (Wales) Measure 2011. Because that piece of legislation gave Welsh “official status in Wales”. But not English.

Assertion 2: Staff who are not bilingual would be “devalued” and “discriminated against” under the terms of the proposed scheme.

Secondly, your paper states that Welsh will be encouraged even for those not requiring it for their post:

“Where fluency in Welsh is not essential for a particular post, Natural Resources Wales will follow a proactive policy of encouraging staff to learn and use Welsh in order to promote a bilingual ethos throughout the organisation”.

It is clear again, that Welsh is being promoted even for staff that are not required to speak fluent Welsh for their job. While I can understand a bilingual ethos being desirable between post-holders that are required to speak Welsh in their work, staff should not be devalued when they do not require Welsh in their post and choose not to learn Welsh in their spare time. Otherwise, again, being able to live life through the medium of English would be discriminated against.

BL obviously feels that it is not desirable for use of Welsh to be promoted “even for staff that are not required to speak fluent Welsh for their job”. Whatever. But I can’t determine in which way staff would be “devalued” or “discriminated against” for not speaking Welsh. And BL doesn’t provide us with any evidence that that could happen – by design or default – through the proposed scheme.

Assertion 3: The scheme will discriminate against “English speaking Britons”.

Thirdly, the paper states that increasing numbers of Welsh speakers must be employed among senior staff:

“Natural Resources Wales will also seek to ensure an increasing proportion of Welsh speakers among its senior managers and team leaders, with the aim of enabling the public, other organisations and Natural Resources Wales staff to communicate with senior management and team leaders through the medium of Welsh or English according to their choice.”

While it is crucial for Welsh-speaking public and professionals to have the option of communicating in Welsh, with some jobs entailing Welsh fluency as essential criteria, it is not an equal language policy to be prioritizing ‘an increasing proportion’ of Welsh speakers. A more balanced approach would entail staff numbers that reflect the language demographic in Wales, with sufficient staff on hand to speak Welsh, rather than continually and exclusively increasing bilingual staff only. This would significantly reduce the pool of applicants and therefore has the potential to lessen the expertise or ability of the successful applicant to do a scientific / management job well. This approach will clearly discriminate against English speaking Britons, greatly reducing the choice of potential staff for posts at NRW, and make it harder for experts in the field to gain work in Wales.

Firstly I should say that all bilinguals speak English too. As do many people from all over the world who are permitted to work in Wales. But BL’s making a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of communication. Bilinguals are better equipped to work in Wales than monolinguals. Full stop. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons they get an 8-10% premium on their earnings. Because any time the media or some conference or meeting wants a comment they can do it in either language. And any time there’s a discussion to be had with people from any part of Wales whose preferred language is Welsh, the bilingual isn’t busily putting her conversation partner to an inconvenience like the monolingual.

BL thinks it’s ok to palm someone off on the Welsh language audience who isn’t an expert or hasn’t got the experience to discuss a matter (“sufficient staff on hand to speak Welsh”). But that approach  erodes confidence in the ability of an organisation to do a decent job because you end up with non-specialists and media officers communicating with the outside world. Effectively, a second-class service for the bilingual population.

Assertion 4: The scheme discriminates against non-bilingual graduates.

Lastly, the paper states that courses will become available for Welsh-speaking environmental graduates:

“It can be difficult to recruit suitably qualified Welsh speaking staff into some posts, particularly scientific posts. Natural Resources Wales will address this in several proactive ways by:-

• contributing to the AmNawdd scheme for sponsoring Welsh speaking students following environment-related courses in higher education, and providing work placements for the students taking part in the scheme

• playing a lead role in the Welsh Language Environmental Partnership, which draws together representatives from across the environmental, higher education and voluntary sectors

• providing trainee posts for Welsh speaking graduates to increase their opportunity to start a career in the environment.”

This policy would even make it harder for many Welsh graduates, as most Welsh graduates don’t speak Welsh. In order to treat the Welsh and English language equally, courses and trainee posts should be available to both Welsh and English speakers by merit of their career goals and attainments. To prioritise or favour Welsh-speaking graduates over English-speaking by ‘providing trainee posts for Welsh speaking graduates’ is to discriminate and to devalue academic and professional ability, passion and hard work. If work placements are available in the environment sector they should be available to English-speaking students as much as Welsh-speaking students, to avoid discrimination, and to establish language equality.

BL’s already accepted the business case for bilingual jobs: “While it is crucial for Welsh-speaking public and professionals to have the option of communicating in Welsh, with some jobs entailing Welsh fluency as essential criteria…”. And NRW have told us that “It can be difficult to recruit suitably qualified Welsh speaking staff into some posts, particularly scientific posts”. So for some jobs for which bilingualism is essential, recruitment is a problem. That seems to me to be a fair basis for providing a leg up to bilingual graduates. Say an organisation had a problem attracting staff with certain in-demand skills. It might provide a “market factor” pay bonus. I have it on reliable information that the Environment Agency does just this for certain jobs that it finds difficulty competing with the private sector for, like lawyers and accountants. It’s a similar situation with a different metric. If it’s difficult to recruit someone with essential skills, then an organisation needs to find a way to improve its chances of getting those skills. That’s what NRW appears to desire through this scheme. 

BL finishes off by requesting to remain anonymous in the consultation process. Whooah! Did I just say anonymous? So how on earth did I get hold of BL’s submission?

It turns out that BL sent her submission round the houses, initially to 29 of her contacts, with the following message:

If you are interested in voicing your opinion on this I have pasted my email to them below so that you can get a quick idea of the some of the problems I can see with the policy. If you agree with my points, perhaps you would like to email a brief statement summarising, or your own interpretation. Even a short statement would be worthwhile… all you need to do is email to the following address… Please forward this to anyone who you think might be interested (BL’s emphasis)

And at least one of those contacts sent it to a distribution list for Marinet – a mailing list with hundreds and hundreds of people on it.

So we end up with a self-publicist chastising NRW for their Welsh language policy, while trying to hide behind the cloak of anonymity. BL, here’s a tip for you. If you want to remain anonymous, try keeping things to yourself.

So who is BL? And could it be that BL’s tried to get jobs in the environment sector and failed? Could it be that she’s been passed over for promotion because of a lack of skills?

And could it be that one of the skills she could acquire that might enhance her prospects of employment in Wales would be Welsh language competence?

Rhowch sylw

Filed under Education, Welsh Government