Adam Price’s Blog

The Blog of Adam Price AS/MP, Carmarthen East and Dinefwr

Adam Price MP / AS - Carmarthen East and Dinefwr

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Archive for April, 2009

30th April 2009

The Long Arc of Insolvency

In the 1997 St David’ Day Debate Denzil Davies, the former Labour MP for Llanelli, argued that an independent Wales would have a 15% fiscal deficit and that this meant that Wales could not be independent:

We are talking about a deficit of 15 per cent. for the Welsh economy, and that is on favourable assumptions. I do not believe that any country in the western world could survive with such a deficit. It would be impossible to fund a deficit of 15 per cent. Who would fund it? The banks certainly would not fund it, nor would major international corporations. The International Monetary Fund would not fund it without substantial cuts in public expenditure. It just would not happen.”

Rhodri Morgan seemed to agree with him:

“Mr. Denzil Davies: For the record, my remarks were not made in the context of a Maastricht debate. I said that a country with a fiscal deficit of 15 per cent. could not exist as an independent country.

Mr. Morgan: I paraphrased my right hon. Friend wrongly. He is right. He specifically excluded Maastricht. He used the figures in his argument against the hon. Member for Ynys Mon (Mr. Jones). How does the conclusion in the Secretary of State’s booklet that Wales has only 4 per cent. of Great Britain’s GDP and 5 per cent. of its population fit the picture painted in his speech? We must say, “Hang on a minute, Secretary of State. Where is this land of milk and honey with its vast numbers of jobs that you are claiming to be leading, indeed to have created?”

It’s a figure that Denzil Davies ghas repeated time and time again like an article of faith.  Now the IMF is predicting a UK fiscal deficit of over 11%, we are within 4% of the UK ceasing to be an independent country according to Labour’s logic.  Or is it OK for Britian to run a double digit deficit, just not OK if it’s Wales. 

Figures prepared by Plaid economics guru Eurfyl ap Gwilym show just how profligate New Labour have been:  in the decade 1999-2009 the economy grew by 52.4% (in cash terms), government expenditure grew by 92.3% but tax only grew by 42.1%.  No wonder we are in a mess.  Can anyone honestly say that a Welsh Government could have done any worse?  

So much for Rhodri’s “great mutual insurance scheme”.  They haven’t been paying the premiums.

28th April 2009

The New Nasty Party?

Liberal Democrats have a knack of issuing regular pleas to ‘clean up’ politics and rid it of personal attacks….only then to go and engage in the same kind of personal attacks they criticise in others.  We in Plaid still remember the innuendos levelled routinely at Simon Thomas during the Ceredigion by-election (that he was gay-  ’because he wore a ear-ring’ apparently – and that he was a vegetarian - so what if he was, but in actual fact he was and still is a happily married carnivore).  Another typical underhand Lib Dem tactic is to question your motive, so that even where they agree with what you are saying, they imply you are not saying it sincerely, or for the wrong reason, and that they therefore still deserve the moral high ground all to themselves. 

A standard trope trotted out by a number of Lib Dem commentators recently, for example,  is that I wasn’t genuinely opposed to the new policy on tuition fees in Wales: I was ‘faking’ it for the media.  In this vein Peter Black argued:

“his prime objective appears to be to try and distance Plaid Cymru from decisions by its own Ministers in the hope of limiting the electoral damage. Once more he is trying to have his cake and eat it.”

As if the party leadership would deliberately want a headline like this.  Kirsty Williams has also accused me of ‘grandstanding’ which is a word that politicians like to use a lot (and like ‘churlish’ not a word you ever hear being used by anyone else). It essentially means ‘getting a lot of media coverage while not actually giving a tinker’s cuss’. 

Now Alison Goldsworthy of Cardiff West Lib Dems, asks, following a Freedom of Information request:

But why on earth wouldn’t Adam have used the many internal channels available to him as one of Plaid’s most influential politicians to voice these concerns beforehand.”

Well, for the record, Alison I had numerous conversations over many months with Plaid’s Special Advisers right up to my drafting the letter which was leaked to the Western Mail (believe me there are easier and less painful ways of getting publicity than drafting a four page letter of carefully worded legal argument).  I wrote publicly about my concerns in November last year. I tabled a motion to our National Council which reiterated our party policy.  I did in other words use all the channels available to me, internally and externally to try and halt the policy. 

Why?  Because I  received a full student grant in the 1980s and I would not be typing this now as a graduate if I hadn’t.  I spent four years on the executive of the National Union of Students in Wales and student financial support was the main theme of my maiden speech in the House of Commons. 

What did the Welsh Liberal Democrats do to defeat the policy – pour a bucket of spit over those of us who had the courage of our convictions and continued to oppose fees despite the difficulties this obviously created for the leadership of our party.  Together with the Tories who appeared to welcome the policy U-turn  as an Opposition party the Lib Dems were about as useful as a Member’s room chocolate tea-pot.  Two AMs (Leanne and Bethan) and one ‘grandstanding’ MP did a better job of opposition to this policy than an entire Assembly Group of half a dozen.  If the LDs were sincere in wanting to defeat this policy they would have worked with us rather than attacking us at every opportunity.  In reality they were quite happy for the policy to pass in order to milk the electoral advantage.  At no point did they try and build a coalition by reaching out to Plaid or Labour rebels.  But, then, I forgot they are the worse Coalition builders in history.    

Cynog Dafis once argued that there isn’t room in Welsh politics for the Lib Dems and Plaid.  I am beginning to agree.  But if we must have four-party politics, does the one eternally at the bottom of the pile have to be a weak centrist party with no real intellectual coherence.  The BNP or UKIP, of course, would be far, far worse.  But surely the Greens would be better.

In the meantime all these Lib-Dem attacks on Plaid will do nothing to endear Plaid supporters in Mid Wales that have traditionally voted Liberal to keep the Tories out.  With the Lib Dems openly admitting they will back the Tories at Westminster even if they could be blocked,  we will be telling our voters in Maldwyn, Brycheiniog a Maesyfed at the next election not to waste their vote on fair-weather progressives.  After all, as someone once said, what’s the point?    

Update: No discernible response to any of the above from the Lib Dems apart from this from Peter Black:

Whatever the views and actions of individual members of Plaid, they are now members of a party that has sold out Welsh students and that is something we are not going to let them forget.”

I take that as some kind of apology which I am gracious enough to accept.  But it doesn’t explain why the Liberal Democrats made no effort to reach out to people who had common ground to try and halt the policy. I wrote to every university union in Wales to seek their views (and was surprised and disappointed to find they agreed with the Government line with some important exceptions).  I am left with the distinct impression that the Lib Dems were more interested in playing ‘electoral politics’ than real politics which means forging alliances inside, outside and across parties.  The same was true in the case of the anti-war movement where the Lib Dems played very little part outside of Parliament (in the Stop The War Coalition for example) and only belatedly agreed to provide speakers for the marches.  Overall the silence in reponse to my trenchant critique of the Lib Dems is pretty deafening.  Is there anyone out there? Haranguing the Liberal Democrats is a bit like worrying the carcass of a dead sheep.   

27th April 2009

What is the point of the Liberal Democrats?

For some reason the Welsh Lib Dems seem to have decided that their main purpose in life is to attack Plaid Cymru.  This is progress as far as they are concerned as I am not sure there was any point to the Liberal Democrats up until now.  When they were in Coalition – a long time ago  – we spent most of the time ignoring them as basically irrelevant.  They, on the other hand, delight in talking about the Plaid-Labour coalition, all the while reminding people that Plaid is a credible and competent party of Government, while they are, well, basically irrelevant but now even more so since they decided that entering into Government with anyone was, well, just too hard

I was as suprised as anyone to see us attacked as ‘gutless’ by the very nice Roger Williams who is a neighbouring MP with whom I have had the best of relationships (which it cannot be said, truth be told, for some of my other neighbours).  The thought of Roger as the new Lib Dem attack dog fills me more with a sense of disbelief than fear I have to admit.  It puts me in mind of that famous put-down by Dennis Healey that being attacked by Geoffrey Howe was like being savaged by a dead sheep.

Kirsty Williams in her party’s English-language Conference PPB (the Welsh language one was much more entertaining though for all the wrong reasons) tried to lump in Labour, the Conservatives and Plaid as followers of ne0-liberal free-market fundamentalism.  While Thatcher and Blair clearly were deregulating pro-market privatisers I dont see how you can credibly make that charge of anyone in Plaid Cymru.  Quite frankly it makes them look ridiculous as they’re the party that invented economic liberalism – as Orange Book Liberals like David Laws are always keen to point out.   Presumably that’s why the Lib Dems were the first political party to advocate the privatisation of the Royal Mint and the Royal Mail – and they have the gall to suggest we are right-wing!

Being accused of being ‘other-wordly’ by Peter Black is a bit like being called a geek by someone at a Star-Trek convention.  Peter is deeply sceptical about our call in our economic strategy for Wales for a fiscal stimulus of £60 billion across the UK, £3 billion for Wales.  In hyper-ventillating mode he says:  

“Plaid Cymru are living in cloud-cuckoo land if they think that that sort of money is available to the Treasury to invest in Wales. The Chancellor has just announced record borrowing levels for goodness sake, £175 billion this year alone.”

Well, for goodness sake, Peter may I point out that we were joined in calling for a substantial additional fiscal stimulus in last week’s Budget by the National Institute for Social and Economic Research, David Blanchflower, a member of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee, and the Sustainable Development Commission.  Accuse us of many things, Peter, but don’t make it economic illiteracy as you’ll end up looking stupid. 

And by all means continue to attack Plaid because it makes you look like the directionless, Anglo-centric and, if you don’t mind me saying, slightly insipid party that you appear to have become.

22nd April 2009

Raising the White Flag

“Darling’s final nail in the coffin of New Labour” is the headline in the London Evening Standard tonight but I think it was the white flag – not the red one – that Labour raised in the Budget today.  Some of us probably harboured the belief that Gordon – the colossus of Comprehensive Spending Plans past, the creator of Golden Rules, wooer of Prudence – had some kind of plan that hed had been feverishly working on (which was the reason he’d taken his eye off MPs expenses, Special Advisers’ antics and other such things that the lesser mortals of the media busy themselves with).  The truth is, there is no plan; Labour is finished.  This is a now officially a caretaker administration. 

In the last few days the Sustainable Development Commission, the National Institute of Economic and Social Research and David Blanchflower, the only member of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee that got it right on interest rates, have joined Plaid in calling for a major stimulus package.  In the end the Budget was about as simulating as Alistair Darling’s delivery.  A few billion for youth training, £300 million for a car scrappage scheme (which the car industry will end up having to part-fund itself), some money for housing, some for energy efficiency etc but by a rough calculation all of it amounting to about £5 billion.  To match the ambition of Obama’s plan that should have been a £100 billion.  Barack, Brown most certainly is not.   

Off to do Wales Today now.  One thought: in 1997 Labour’s campaign song was memorably Things Can Only Get Better.  Now they are going to get a whole lot worse, it strikes me their campaign song next year (as next year it surely will be) should be the main anthemic number from the brilliant new musical Spring Awakening: I can’t repeat the title as this is a family blog, but if you’ve seen the show (which is showcasing some fantastic Welsh talent) you know the one I mean.   Sorry no hyperlinks:  must dash….

20th April 2009

Labour in the West: tired, divided and resigned

The rapid decline in Labour support in the Welsh-speaking south-west (the old Dyfed) – similar to Labour’s demise in the old Gwynedd a generation earlier – has taxed Labour’s minds a lot over the last few years. Cymdeithas Cledwyn – the ginger group set up by Eluned Morgan a few years ago now – announced last Summer that henceforth it was going to dedicate itself to winning the support back of Welsh speakers in the western half of Wales.  Much the same has been said by Carwyn Jones in 2008  who urged the party to stop being anti-Welsh as did Rhodri Morgan six months later, and not long ago toured the west on what had originally billed a ‘taith iaith’,  .

They must have been collectively hanging their heads in despair when the Labour PPC for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, Rhys Williams, (an otherwise engaging man who long before he became a trade union official and now press officer for Alun Davies and Nia Griffiths was, once, like Alun, a member of Plaid) told the world, in an article in the Welsh language monthly Barn, “why he hates Welsh speakers”.  Insulting 60% of your electorate before you even begin campaigning would in most people’s books be considered a rather strange political stratagem.

Well-placed Labour sources have been briefing privately that Mr Williams has resigned for over a month but there has been no word officially up until now.  I am not sure if these rumours were intended deliberately to undermine him and force the issue – but it would appear the Labour Party was trying to hold the story back until after their Welsh Conference.  They have only now put out an official confirmation this afternoon after being confronted by a press enquiry.     Meanwhile in the Llanelli seat next door, rumours also abound about what some might regard as a rather curious choice as Labour Assembly candidate.  There is no way of knowing exactly as to the truth of these rumours as Labour in Carmarthenshire is so riven with factional in-fighting and is as leaky as a sieve. 

But perhaps the most worrying – and for most of my constituents by far the most significant – example of Labour’s long march to obscurity is the increasingly dysfunctional leadership  of the Labour Party at the local level.  For the record I like Cllr. Kevin Madge, the Deputy Leader of Carmarthenshire County Council – but with leadership comes responsibility including a responsibility not to mislead the public wilfully for party political purposes.  In his latest outburst, after a brief personal attack on me, Cllr. Madge claimed last week in a letter in the South Wales Guardian:

“that the Amman Valley has not received a penny of the convergence money whic has been available for two years”  and that

“Rhodri Glyn, AM, has been briefed on these matters, but he has done nothing to bring the money down to us – and he is supposed to be in charge!  Could he therefore inform us when the first project is going to start?”

Both of these statements are misleading – and one of them is defamatory.  I was sat behind Cllr. Madge last Friday at a seminar organised by his own authority’s excellent Convergence Fund team where we were informed by the Wales European Funding Office that over a half a million pounds of REACT and PROACT money had already been spent in Carmarthenshireto help firms dealing withthe effects of the economic crisis.  Furthermore, Neville Davies, head of the Council-run West Wales European Centre confirmed that three projects – with a combined budget of £36 million – have been approved.  The £19 million SouthWest Wales Flexible Business Finance Scheme, for example, is already well underway with financial support already being given to SMEs. 

By far the most serious charge though is that the local Plaid Cymru AM, Rhodri Glyn Thomas, had been told about Cllr. Madge’s concerns and had simply done nothing.  This is a politically motivated smear which Kevin Madge would or should have known was untrue and demands a  full and unreserved public apology. 

The background to this is a rather extraordinary statement first made  by Kevin Madge on the 25th of February in the Carmarthen Journal about local Plaid Assembly members  in the context of Convergence Funding:

“We need to arrange a special meeting, a bit like the House of Commons did with the banks, and get them to apologise to the electorate and explain why they’re not delivering!”

Meetings were held withlocal Assembly members and following his discussion with the local Chief Executive, Rhodri Glyn Thomas convened a meeting between the Leader, the Chief Executive, the Director for Regeneration and Leisure and the Head of European Policy and External Funding of Carmarthenshire County Council with the Deputy First Minister, Ieuan Wyn Jones AM on the 25th March 2009.  The executive summary of the meeting produced for the County Council’s Executive Board, dated April 15th, on which Kevin Madge sits concluded that the meeting was “extremely positive” and a number of improvements have already been made to the way in which project bids are processed – a fact confirmed by Carmarthenshire’s Head of European Policy, Neville Davies, at the seminar on Friday. 

The long and the short of this is that the Leader of the Labour Group on Carmarthenshire County Council has misled the public and made false  accusations about another elected member for purely party political ends.  Cllr. Madge may think the electorate is stupid – but the fact that he only ever attacks Plaid Assembly ministers (Leighton Andrews, Ieuan’s deputy, is entirely innocent of any of the criticisms that Kevin makes, apparently) shows that this is all just about petty political tribalism rather than doing the job he and I and Rhodri were elected to do which is working with everyone (regardless of party) for the benefit of the people we represent. 

The bigger picture of all this is that the Labour Party west of Swansea is in complete and utter disarray.  Hardly any young talent – and by young I mean under 60 – is coming through the ranks.  Among those that remain there is nothing but acrimony and tension. Kevin Madge has probably being goaded into these inflammatory and baseless attacks on Plaid because he feels is own position is under threat within a Labour group that is deeply divided.  As far as the Westminster Election is concerned, I obviously wish Rhys well with his return to full health (the official reason given for his decision to stand down) – but I imagine that a lot of  the stress that he has undergone has been generated from within the Labour Party.  Their strategy to win back the West lies in tatters.

Update:  The Labour Party has confirmed the former Carmarthenshire Director of Education, Keith Price-Davies, as their candidate for Llanelli in the next Assembly elections.