Friday, May 25, 2007

So Close and yet...

A difficult week in welsh Politics to be sure, for the first time in 8 years there was a very real prospect of a rainbow coalition.

I was preparing my office for the arrival of my boss the former Minister of EIN and then those lovely Libs pulled out of talks.

Poor old Mike misreading his Lib - party yet again and causing untold embarrassment to Ieuan Wyn Jones. Brilliant.

Best quote of the week form Lord Carlisle - former Welsh lib-dem leader berating his colleagues for attempting to form a coalition said:
Ieuan Wyn Jones would have been the bride, Nick Bourne the groom, but who remembers the ushers? - Indeed!!

Rhodri for First Minister!

Monday, May 14, 2007

Nice but hopeless, the Lib Dems should call it a day?

This lamentable party cannot even master the electoral system to which it has hitched its wagon. Surely it's time to disband.

Simon Jenkins Wednesday May 9, 2007 The Guardian

What are Liberal Democrats for?
They are the flotsam of 20th-century politics drifting on into the 21st, coagulated from ancient clubs, cabals, splits and defections from other parties.
Not since the 19th century have they cohered round any great interest. They represent no mass movement, no breaking of the political mould.
Ask a Liberal Democrat what he or she is for and you get only a susurration of platitudes. Yet thanks to proportional representation this party gets to choose the governments of Scotland and Wales. It is Nero for a day.

Westminster commentators have always given the Lib Dems a free pass, as over cash for honours, because they are both hopeless and nice.
Most parties that have won no power for almost a century and are a political subsidiary of another party, New Labour, would disband. But Britain's patronage state keeps the Lib Dems going, that and the hope that their one distinctive, self-interested policy, proportional representation, might give them blocking power at Westminster.

When Charles Kennedy resisted the temptation - some might say golden opportunity - to take his party left of New Labour early in this decade, he ensured his would never be a ruling party but, at best, king-makers of coalition. Yet what sort of coalition? Local leaders gave no indication before the election which other parties they might prefer.

A Lib Dem vote was a blind vote, a diluted other-party vote to be realised only after the election.

In Scotland the Lib Dem leader, Nicol Stephen, has decided it would be inappropriate to maintain Labour in power yet has told Alex Salmond's nationalists he will not coalesce with him. He cannot tolerate a referendum on independence.

That the party of Irish home rule should reject so liberal a proposal as territorial self-determination is odd. Nor was Salmond demanding support for independence, merely for a vote on it. Under PR there is a majoritarian argument against almost any controversial decision. So what do the Lib Dems fear? Instead they have exchanged responsibility without power for power without responsibility, and are retiring to carp from the backbenches. They will smoke potency but not inhale.

In Wales the party is in equal confusion. Confronted with the predicted scenario of backing a Labour-led coalition or going into a "rainbow coalition", it is undecided. The party leader, Mike German, declared at the weekend: "I am not going to engage in megaphone negotiations". He wants to keep his options open. But to whom do his options belong? Surely a democrat shares his options with his voters.

The party has duly split. German has been told to resign by one of his senior colleagues, form a coalition with Labour by another and not to do so by a third. There is no great policy at stake. There is certainly no prospect of stability. As the established church of old Labour crumbles across Wales, its nonconformist rivals are apeing their forebears. They are setting up feuding chapels in every corner of the Welsh political village.

Coalition, the natural consequence of PR, removes the outcome of an election from the hustings to the private deal of corridors, cabals and careerism. In the case of the Lib Dems, students of really bad government should read an account of the shortlived 1977 Lib-Lab pact. Again before the 1997 election, Paddy Ashdown and Roy Jenkins held secret meetings with Tony Blair on the shape of a coalition should parliament be hung. This included an offer by Blair of cabinet posts to Lib Dems. None of this selling the party down the river for top jobs was revealed to the electorate.

Lib Dems claim a bizarre interpretation of democracy, that the share of votes should be reflected in a share in power. This confuses quite different concepts: executive government and assembly representation. The first requires a coherent team, a declared programme and some mechanism to account for its delivery to the electorate. To this end, France and the US directly elect presidents, governors and mayors. They are checked by a second concept, that of a separately elected assembly, in which PR is both fair and just.

Forcing executive power to be shared with political rivals in a coalition makes it diluted, unstable and unaccountable. Indeed, the purer the proportionality the more unstable it tends to be, as in Israel. Power sharing rarely engenders harmony.

The invocation of "history" to hallow yesterday's fourth attempt at power sharing in Northern Ireland was naive. It cannot last. It suppresses opposition and pretends consensus. The new Stormont regime, its mouth stuffed with money, will never withstand a real delegation of political and fiscal power. Such coalitions seem to work only when, as with English local councils, there is no power to be shared.

It is a tragedy that in Scotland and Wales the executive is chosen from the parliament, as at Westminster, but from one composed by PR, thus virtually ensuring rolling coalitions. This was instead of the London option of a separate executive and assembly, which is the constitutional basis of devolved government almost everywhere. Scotland and Wales should have had directly elected first ministers, with proportionately elected assemblies to check them. This would have met the requirement for a strong government in Edinburgh and Cardiff and for proportional representation in the balancing parliament/assembly.

Instead we have Lib Dem members flying about like £10 notes thrown into the wind. They carry no content, no programme, no sense of direction. They merely confer on the holder a golden share to hire or fire the electoral blocks of Labour and nationalism.

There is no perfect form of democracy. But since cowardice and indecision are its besetting sins, a constitution that empowers a stable cabinet subject to an external check - a separately elected assembly - is preferable to one that internalises that check within a rolling coalition, where it is vulnerable to the whim of minority parties.

The Lib Dems are proving that they cannot work a system to which they have hitched their wagon for half a century. There is much talk that the next general election may yield a quirk rare under the first-past-the-post system of a hung parliament, with the Lib Dems again as king-makers. On the basis of 1977, 1997 and now 2007, it will mean not democracy but chaos. It is surely time for the Lib Dems to fold their tent and go.

Boing Boing 3-2

Once again the mighty Baggies annihilated the dirty Wanderers on their home turf - it's becoming something of a habit.
Roll on Wednesday.

Blair the most successful post-war Prime Minister? Discuss.

A long time since 1997 and it easy to get bogged down in the Iraq war, the erosion of civil liberties, and the hype around spin.

The PM is right though if you really think, remember 1997 the transformation in this country undeniable.

We have the strongest economy in Europe with the highest employment and lowest unemployment for a generation. The minimum wage has ensured that everybody gets a decent standard of living but it would be wrongThe NHS is massively improved, just visit your local hospital, waiting list for minor operations are down to 18weeeks from 18months and significantly less for major ops. our cities stand transformed and not just London but Swansea is having million of investment pumped into it.

Pensioners have never been so well off, Gay couples can essentially marry, fox hunting is banned, access to museums is free, school class sizes are down, nurses, doctors, teachers are better paid, we have some of the best maternity cover in Europe, Northern Ireland is at peace, crime is down and continuing to fall and much of this is down to Blair. - You will be missed.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

I had a tear in my eye for this triumphant Blair speech..

Transcript of Tony Blair MP's speech

Trimdon Labour Club, Sedgefield

Monday 10 May 2007

It's a great privilege to be here with you again today and to thank all of you too for such a wonderful and warm welcome.

I'd just like to say also if I might and just a special word of thanks to John Burton. John has been my agent here for many years now. He's still the best political adviser that I've got. He's...he's all the years I've known him he's been steadfast in his loyalty to me, to the Labour Party and to Sunderland Football Club, not necessarily in that order.

You know it's been my great good fortune at certain points in my life to meet exceptional people and he is one very exceptional person. And also if I may refer to another exceptional person who's my wife, friend and partner, Cherie.

And the children of course. Euan and Nicky and Katherine and Leo who make me never forget my failings...but give me great love and support.

So, I've come back here to Sedgefield, to my constituency, where my political journey began and where it's fitting that it should end. Today I announce my decision to stand down from the leadership of the Labour Party. The party will now select a new leader. On the 27th June I will tender my resignation from the office of Prime Minister to the Queen.

I've been Prime Minister of this country for just over 10 years. In this job, in the world of today, I think that's long enough, for me, but more especially for the country. And sometimes the only way you conquer the pool of power is to set it down.

I can only describe what I think has been done over these last ten years and perhaps more important why I tried to do it, and I never quite put it in this way before. I was born almost a decade after the Second World War. I was a young man in the social revolution of the 60s and the 70s. I reached political maturity as the cold war was ending and the world was going through a political and an economic and a technological revolution. And I looked at my own country. A great country with a great history and magnificent traditions, proud of its past. But strangely uncertain of its future. Uncertain about the future, almost old fashioned.

And all that was curiously symbolised you know in the politics of the time. You, you had choices, you stood for individual aspiration and getting on in life, or a social compassion of helping others. You were liberal in your values, or conservative. You believed in the power of the state or the efforts of the individual. Spending more money on the public realm was the answer, or it was the problem. And none of it made sense to me. It was twentieth century ideology in a world approaching a new millennium.

Of course people want the best for themselves and their families, but in an age when human capital is a nation's greatest asset, they also know it's just and sensible to extend opportunities, to develop the potential to succeed for all our people not just an elite at the top. And people today are open minded about race and sexuality. They're averse to prejudice. And yet deeply, rightly, conservative with a small 'c' when it comes to good manners, respect for others, treating people courteously.

They acknowledge the need for the state and the responsibility of the individual. And they know spending money on our public services matters and they know it's not enough. How they are run and organised matters too.

So 1997 was a moment for a new beginning. The sweeping away of all the detritus of the past. And expectations were so high. Too high probably. Too high in a way for either of us. And now in 2007 you could easily point to the challenges or these things that are wrong or the grievances that fester.

But go back to 1997. Think back, no really think back. Think about your own living standards then in May 1997 and now. Visit your local school - any of them round here or anywhere in modern Britain. Ask when you last had to wait a year or more on a hospital waiting list or heard of pensioners freezing to death in the winter unable to heat their homes.

There is only one government since 1945 that can say all of the following: more jobs, fewer unemployed, better health and education results, lower crime and economic growth in every quarter. Only one government. This one

But we don't need statistics. There's something bigger than what can be measured in waiting lists or GCSE results or the latest crime or jobs figures. Look at the British economy: at ease with globalisation. London, the world's financial centre. Visit ou8r great cities in this country and compare them with 10 years ago. No country attracts overseas investment like we do.
And think about the culture in Britain in the year 2007. I don't just mean our arts that are thriving - I mean our values. The minimum wage. Paid holidays as a right. Amongst the best maternity pay and leave today in Europe. Equality for gay people.

Or look at the debates that reverberate around the word today - the global movement to support Africa in its struggle against poverty. Climate change, then fight against terrorism. Britain is not a follower today - Britain is a leader.

It gets the essential characteristic of today's world. It's interdependent. This is a country today that fort all its faults, form all the myriad of unresolved problems and fresh challenges, it is a country comfortable in the twenty-first century. At home in its own skin, able not just to be proud of its past but also confident of its future. You know I don't think Northern Ireland would have been changed unless Britain had changed. Or the Olympics won if we were still the Britain of 1997.

And as for my own leadership, throughout these ten years where the predictable has competed with the utterly unpredicted, right at the outset one thing was clear to me. Without the Labour Party allowing me to lead it nothing could ever have been done. But I also knew my duty was to put the country first. That much was obvious to me when just under 13 years ago I became Labour's Leader.

What I had to learn, however, as Prime Minister was what putting the country first really meant. Decision-making is hard. You know everyone always says in politics: listen to the people. And the trouble is they don't always agree.

When you are in Opposition, you meet this group and they say 'why can't you do this?' And you say: 'it's really a good question. Thank you'. And they go away and say: 'it's great, he really listened'. And then you meet that other group and they say: 'why can't you do that?' And you say: 'it's a really good question. Thank you'. And they go away happy that you listened.

In Government you have to give the answer, not an answer, the answer. And, in time, you realise that putting the country first doesn't mean doing the right thing according to conventional wisdom or the prevailing consensus or the latest snapshot of opinion. It means doing what you genuinely believe to be right; that your duty as prime minister is to act according to your conviction. And all of that can get contorted so that people think that you act according to some messianic zeal. Doubt, hesitation, reflection, consideration, reconsideration; these are all the good companions of proper decision-making but the ultimate obligation is to decide.

And sometimes the decisions are accepted quite quickly; Bank of England independence was one, which gave us our economic stability. Sometimes, like tuition fees or trying to break up old, monolithic public services, the changes are deeply controversial, hellish, hard to do. But you can see we're moving with the grain of change around the world. And sometimes, like with Europe, where I believe Britain should keep its position strong, you know you are fighting opinion but you're kind of content in doing so. And sometimes, as with the completely unexpected, you are alone with your own instinct.

In Sierra Leone and to stop ethnic cleansing in Kosovo I took the decision to make our country one that intervened, that did not pass by or keep out of the thick of it. And then came the utterly unanticipated and dramatic September the 11th 2001 and the death of 3000 or more on the streets on New York. And I decided we should stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our oldest ally and I did so out of belief. And so Afghanistan and then Iraq, the latter bitterly controversial. And removing Saddam and his sons from power, as with removing the Taliban, was over with relative ease, but the blowback since from global terrorism and those elements that support it has been fierce and unrelenting and costly. And for many it simply isn't and can't be worth it. For me, I think we must see it through.
They the terrorists who threaten us here and around the world will never give up if we give up. It is a test of will and of belief. And we can't fail it.

So: some things I knew I would be dealing with. Some I thought I might be. Some never occurred to me, or to you, on that morning of 2 May 1997 when I came into Downing Street for the first time.

Great expectations not fulfilled in every part, for sure. Occasionally people say, as I said earlier, the expectations were too high, you should have lowered them. But, to be frank, I would not have wanted it any other way. I was, and remain, as a person and as a Prime Minister an optimist. Politics may be the art of the possible; but at least in life, give the impossible a go.
So of course the visions are painted in the colours of the rainbow; and the reality is sketched in the duller tones of black, white and grey.

But I ask you to accept one thing. Hand on heart, I did what I thought was right. I may have been wrong, that's your call. But believe one thing, if nothing else. I did what I thought was right for our country. And I came into office with high hopes for Britain's future and, you know, I leave it with even higher hopes for Britain's future. This is a country that can today be excited by the opportunities, not constantly fretful of the dangers.

And people say to me it's a tough job, not really. A tough life is the life led by the young, severely disabled children and their parents who visited me in Parliament the other week. Tough is the life my Dad had; his whole career cut short at the age of 40 by a stroke.

Actually, I've been very lucky and very blessed and this country is a blessed nation. The British are special. The world knows it; in our innermost thoughts we know it. This is the greatest nation on Earth.

So it has been an honour to serve it. I give my thanks to you the British people for the times that I have succeeded and my apologies to you for the times I've fallen short.
But good luck.

Tony you'll be missed more than the British public realise..

Britain is not a follower today but a leader.

Blair is currently giving his fairwell speech after announcing his resignation.
What a speech; he is so right things have got so much better since '97.

It is with a real sadness I see him go.
I'll be posting his speech later today.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Winning is what counts.

Following what has been the most difficult month in some time Andrew Davies successfully won his Swansea West seat - jubilation followed. More on the elecion tomorrow. Perhaps we'll have managed to form a government by then...
In the context of winners and winning I must just mention the 7-0 victory over Barnsley by West Brom.
Boing bloody boing!! We're coming for the yellow belly wolves side.