Saturday, 30 April 2011

You are only as good as your weakest seat...

No doubt many will hardly feel any sympathy, but political campaigners have had a pretty tough year. Tough in terms of the General election, referendum, Welsh Election being a huge drain on resources of every kind.

Like any organisation such as businesses, it is difficult to assess things strategically in the medium and long term when the short term is so hectic and challenging.

The one thing that struck me from last year's Westminster general election was that Plaid were losing deposits, particularly the two lost in Newport. In my own seat in Torfaen we didn't but we wasn't far off. This is not a criticism to say that as a party of Wales we should not be losing any deposits in national elections.

To return to the strategic planning point, we have as a party been all hands to the pump on 'election' footing for pretty much 18 months. With a week to go and with one massive push ahead, I can safely say I am looking forward to a rest (and bear in mind many more people have done far more than me!). Given this, it is difficult to plan for things, notice things and develop things outside of that electioneering.

Plaid are a very professional party it must be said so planning is carried out well. But I hope we as a party with no national elections until the Euro ones in 2014, focus on things outside of target seats*. To be perfectly frank, we can look at raising the vote by 1000 in our third city of Newport an provide resources to do so.

In the longer term, small gains in places that are not our target seats is massively important to the list vote and given I fully expect 80 AMs in the future (with 40 being regional/proportionally elected), then it's vital.

Don't get it twisted, in places like Torfaen and Newport we work our butt off with limited resources. Some of that work will bear fruit this year and certainly next year, but the next few years, out of the necessary election war footing, we need to firm up and develop Plaid support in new areas. This will take hard work and strategic support - some Plaid possess in abundance.

*Before anyone pipes up - I am a candidate in 2012, it's going to be the most important one ever for me, but you catch my drift. In fact, winning council seats is an absolute necessity to grow the Plaid vote (it's pretty true that my personal vote is bigger than the Plaid vote - but I am starting to get the Plaid vote to solidify and then catch up). This is the template for growth surely.

Friday, 29 April 2011

Carwyn dances to an altogether darker tune

Social security, benefits and most economic levers are not devolved. Labour could win 60 seats next week and none of these things will alter. It is a cowardice that a party that have stood solely on being against the Tories lack the cahones to take control of areas that will remain in the hands of those same Tory ogres.

And to be fair, I would happily prefer Labour AMs to be in charge of those policies rather than Tory (or indeed Labour) MPs. MPs in a Westminster context are beholden to swing seats in commuter towns in England, a rabid media that places scandal, pseudo racism and right wing nastiness at it's heart and the mythical 'middle England'.

All this is irrelevant though. Peter Hain's anonymous spokesperson made it crystal clear - anything not devolved is Ed Milliband's and MPs territory. Carwyn Jones is a siloed HR manager. So let's be clear what Labour's policy is in non-devolved areas and who is leading the debate on something like welfare reform.

Blue Labour.

Carwyn Jones could barricade himself to the IPPR office in protest, but the fact is that these policies are outside his payroll. It is why Peter Hain can vote for tuition fees, prescription charges etc for English voters, but then champion opposing them in Wales. It's why Carwyn Jones presents himself as the 'alternative' to the Browne report on tuition fees...commissioned by...Labour in Westminster.

Blue Labour is Labour in Westminster. It is the direction of thinking for all non-devolved areas. Carwyn Jones could be more left wing than Welsh Ramblings and this would not change - Heir to Blair, Heir to Blair, PFI, PFI.

Good post here by Ramblings.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

A flat campaign with a few bumps ahead

A number of respected commentators have put forward a sense of this campaign being a rather flat one. I recommend Gareth's post too.

I concur to a certain degree. Nationally the story, the debate that aroused passion, was the referendum on March 3rd. It was always going to be the context maker for this campaign, albeit perhaps not in a way I expected at the time. Had that referendum had been lost, you would have got all hell breaking lose and as a spectator a much more interesting campaign. One thing it truly immersed me in as Plaid member was the dual purpose to being a Plaid member - the goals as a party and the national goals for Wales.

Ultimately the national story was the referendum. I do wonder whether the dynamic of the campaign would have been different if the two votes were held on the same day?

Privately I remarked that Labour were using the referendum far more agressively as an election kick off. It would be crass to suggest, without empirical evidence, that this gave Labour a running start over the other parties. But Labour clearly gave their main theme (Vote Labour, the Tory are shits and will cut everything and by the way forget we was going to cut the same anyway) a test drive.

It was telling that Carwyn Jones was at pains to list things in Labour's manifesto that could not have been delivered under the previous system. But let's be honest here, Carwyn Jones is a far calmer presence than Rhodri Morgan in the media and has a party back feeling comfortable in it's own skin (many a 40+ Labour activist cut their political teeth opposing the Tories). Carwyn does autopilot very well thank you, hence why Labour is so keen to amble along.

Nationally also I think that the sun still has not set on the General election. Given the game changing nature of the last UK election (the first one since 1997 where the result was in doubt in the midst of massive economic upheaval), these arguments have been done to death - by the politicians, the media and let's be honest a pretty weary electorate.

It has been a challenge for Plaid, despite having genuinely fresh ideas, to shift that focus on Tory cuts, AV, Lib Dem betrayal and the luxury of opposition but equal media time for the UK Labour Party.

Added to this in terms of it being flat - the lib dems have been all but wiped out as potential challengers. In 2007 they were live wire opponents in Newport East, Labour was genuinely worried in such seats. Realistically the Lib Dems have been forgotten about in terms of winning new seats, merely holding on. Ditto the Tories, who I think privately admit staying still is about right.

This is not me talking down Plaid's chances, but merely why the campaign has failed to spark. To be perfectly honest, Labour could get the same 26 seats an Ed Milliband wouldn't worry, in Scotland they are shitting a brick.


That is the national narrative, one that simply is only a partial analysis. Seats that are in danger of changing hands are often beholden to local factors and about street by street campaigning. In Caerphilly this has been evident - the Plaid vote is absolutely rock solid and growing in our strong areas, built on continual growth at local election level (Plaid have double the county councillors than Labour in Caerphilly). Ron Davies has the profile to reach out to Labour voters and his personal vote alike. Even voices who question if they can vote for Plaid are often put at ease when they realise that the only way to have Ron Davies as your AM is to vote for the party he is standing for.

I digress and don't like to talk up or down chances, as it's hard even embedded in a campaign to really get a sense. But ultimately my point was that national polls can never tell the tale (I think Labour have realised this in terms of taking anything further than the obvious targets) of the local seats.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Independents (but add us all together if we lose)

I was struck by a letter from an independent candidate for the recent Pontypool by-election in this week's Free Press. In it he mused on the fact that the combined independent's vote was in excess of Labour and whether AV would be worthwhile for voters to show 'they wanted an independent' Councillor.

We are talking in what ifs to a certain degree, but this left me confused as to the reason for an independent candidate. My understanding, something a certain brand of independent won't ever deviate from, is that they are their own people and stand alone as candidates - "Free from party whip", "only serving Torfaen" etc.

If we are to accept that (and I am sure they probably believe what they are saying, as do some voters) then you cannot have it both ways. A vote for an independent is a vote for that individual's qualities and personality, they are to be treated in isolation.

Otherwise, and it's a rather dense binary often presented by independents, you can add up all the 'party slave' votes together and say 'people voted for someone of a party councillor'. Of course you can't!

Given the very personal nature of the attacks from many independents in Torfaen, I am sure they will all scream blue murder if anyone lumped them in together. I certainly won't do that, which is why I think the independent candidate who came second in the Pontypool by-election is trying to have his cake and eat it.


I didn't add that this is in a multi independent environment. My understanding was that in Torfaen this time there is only one independent candidate, so I would be confident in saying that this candidate may well hoover up votes that she would not have got if other independents stood.

What I learned from Martin Shipton's book...

Having just finished Martin Shipton's "Poor Man's Parliament" I wanted to share a 'Five things I have learned...' in a few blog posts;

The LCO System's creators need to repent

During the election campaign you could not find a politician or the political elite who wouldn't happily rubbish the LCO system. But I am yet to see anyone's metaphorical head on a stick for it's creation, support and failure. Having such a big call in the hands of a part of one party is simply not acceptable for matters of such importance.

We have to immediately have a cross party report on what does and does need another referendum and take a far more consensual approach. We need this agreed by all parties, at least in terms of what needs a referendum if they were in power. I am willing to take the ConDems at their word about devolving further powers, we cannot have a repeat of the LCO system.

Party's need to federalise or devolution will always be rubbish

I was angry at times at all our politicians during reading Shipton's book. I was angry because it gave the distinct impression (and at times reality) that the Assembly was a kangaroo court of jokers. The humiliation the AMs had to endure, often from within their own party's MPs just added to that.

Labour, Lib Dems and the Tories would be better as parties and as potential government's if they federalised. This would allow for differences to be seen as the democratic will of the federalised part, not as a binary opposition. I was struck that on Ed Milliband's visit to Wales last week he offered Carwyn Jones as an alternative to higher tuition fees, prescription charges and what not. But does he then mean an alternative to English Labour, who introduced and still have those policies for England?

Click here to see Alex Salmond skewer Peter Hain on this matter. 24mins in.

And for the record, I don't take the view that if a Westminster Government comes forward with a different policy that it's automatically bad compared to a WG policy. Too many in Welsh politics equate criticising Welsh Government policy with criticising devolution.

All parties, including Plaid, would begin to accept policy differences within parties, much like we have to accept policy differences between devolved Governments.

However, Martin Shipton's book does highlight how the Assembly was demeaned for far too long in it's attempt to forge a different path.

Credit must go to the Lib Dems, even if it took a crisis to get some honesty. Of course the Lib Dems a praying they can make this a 'Welsh election about Welsh issues' in 2011, but at least they have been saying what all parties should be saying - this election is about electing a Welsh Government to rule over devolved areas.

Plaid must be far more self confident

Honestly, in my time campaigning for Plaid in one of our weakest seats, I feel we have an offering that attracts people. Of course, I have seen people recoil at Plaid, the Welsh language and the Welsh Assembly (which tellingly they see as one and the same) on the doorstep, however we are never going to win them all. However, we do have the ideas to win in new areas. Going through Shipton's book, I sense a nervousness in Plaid, particularly when the proverbial hits the fan.

My peers in Plaid, the ones under 40, need to be strong in the face of storms and dare I say but we have to campaign beyond elections and for radical things that will involve being the sole party campaigning for it. This might be facing down some of our policies that cannot be sacred cows, it might be far more anti-establishment on things like the BBC and it might be not panicking when we get siren voices accusing us of things.

A confident party is one of that can allow criticism from others to bounce of it.

Friday, 22 April 2011

AV a look at these

Two articles on AV that you should read;

Adam Higgitt writes with a depth that has been so lacking from the debate around AV. I don't agree with all of it, however it is written with purpose and no shortage of strong arguments.

Johann Hari makes an excellent case for AV (although not really AV but reform in general). The one bad argument is the 'BNP support it, therefore it is bad' - which is pretty flimsy an argument.

Malcolm Gladwell, Adam Price and "Why Not?"

This week I was discussing on twitter the limitations to Malcolm Gladwell's ideas (as much as discussion can take place in that medium anyway). I enjoy Gladwell's writing, it has a laconic wit and a comforting almost home cooking feel tone to it. It's relaxed enough to enjoy it, understand the idea but not feel it is being sledgehammered into your skull.

Gladwell's 'The Tipping Point' is his best idea, if not book (I preferred Blink as a book). Gladwell's central idea, one where "epidemics behave in a very unusual and counterintuitive way" is something Plaid Cymru need to think about as we enter the business end of these elections. As Gladwell says;

"As human beings, we always expect everyday change to happen slowly and steadily, and for there to be some relationship between cause and effect. And when there isn't -- when crime drops dramatically in New York for no apparent reason, or when a movie made on a shoestring budget ends up making hundreds of millions of dollars -- we're surprised. I'm saying, don't be surprised"

You might think with the polls how they are, the media pointing in a different direction and hangover of the most British General Election in living memory we as a party face huge challenges. We do of course, but it's important to refer back to tipping points.

Adam Price has probably read Gladwell (less so this Blog I am sure), however I thought a comment in made in that excellent research reminded me of a tipping point.

There may be many plausible reasons for opposing Welsh independence, but the risk of impoverishment can no longer credibly be said the strongest.

Clearly the time the Welsh electorate engages with "Why not?" rather than "How can we/Why?" on Welsh independence maybe our very own national tipping point.

The same can go for these elections. I am at pains to give it to you straight, the polls must have some grain of truth in them nationally. I don't foresee us breaking the 20 seats barrier (an essential strategic goal by 2020 IMHO) this time. However, remember that "epidemics behave in a very unusual and counterintuitive way".

Might we see us remain on the same number of AMs but with new 'tipping point' victories. As someone involved in the Caerphilly campaign, believe me that it's neck and neck and that every time Ron Davies goes out and meets voters we are winning new and untapped support - built on a strong base of the Council. Even the most one-eyed Labour hack might hesitate when asked "Who would make a better AM for Caerphilly - Cuthbert or Davies?"

Might there be a seat we don't win but gain 500, 1000 or 2000 votes? A seat that in a decade becomes the next Caerphilly or in 2012 brings far more councillors? To borrow this metaphor, might these flotillas of Councillors in the long run deliver the breaking of the glass ceiling nationally?

Change is rarely linear and is often hidden under something as blunt as 'national election story'.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Direct Appeals and Giving up

Daran Hill writes a fair minded piece about how he sees the state of affairs regarding the Welsh General Election. As with all pieces of this nature, we cannot prove either way of what we believe will happen.

I do take slight issue with the closed shop theme running through. A few seats, constituency and regional, are close and live wire. Added to this the "We might as well get it over with and go to the polls tomorrow for all this campaign is changing." comment I sense is from someone talking from Cardiff Bay rather than in many of the streets the campaign is being fought. Every single party will be campaigning today in seats they know are real contests and believe and can change the course of those seats.

But to be fair to Daran, I assume he means the national picture, so I will stop picking bones out of that comment. What I do take issue with, particularly from someone who fronted the Yes for Wales Campaign, is the near acceptance that it's perfectly fine to campaign on another government in another place. Anyone involved in Yes for Wales, myself included spent weeks reminding voters of what this vote IS NOT about. It seems a bit churlish to 6 weeks later say that Labour's tactic of making this a mid-term for Westminster is all gravy.

Saying that is where the 'voters are at' is double standards in this regard. Many voters were wholly wanting the referendum to be about everything other than the issue at hand.

Not that I don't think there is a method in Labour's strategy. However you would hope opinion formers (which Daran is of the highest order in Wales) would be willing to forward the arguments about having the debate on the issues that are involved, not sending a message to another Government. Labour are indulging in the True Wales tactics we all so loathed.

Parties of course will do what they feel with give them the best shot. So Daran is right in identifying that Labour's message is on the voters minds. I actually do believe that Plaid potentially might have at times sounded too similar to Labour on the issue of cuts, but again that convicts myself like any other of my Plaid colleagues.

But the overriding message I have is that for us Plaid campaigners is that every single vote is needed and we cannot accept our lot until the polls close.

Monday, 18 April 2011

The Welsh Tories called today...

Or did they?

When Natasha Asghar isn't a TV presenter, anchor and a model she is the Conservative Candidate for Torfaen in the Welsh General Election.

I had a leaflet through the door, not very showy to be fair, saying that 'We called to see you today...'.

Although I was in work, my wife and kids were in all day. My three year old son has x-men like powers at hearing the front door (with the speed of a puma to match when running to the door upon knock), yet none of them heard the door go. My wife, as apolitical as they come, actually said she wanted to give the Tories a piece of her mind over the tax credit changes that will massively effect us. Shame they only pretend they knock the door then...

At least they have used local printers. The independent candidate, Councillor Elizabeth Haynes, makes alot of how she will support local business and 'local jobs for local people'. Noble aims, apart from any detail about how she will actually do that, but slightly let down by the fact she has used a printers in London.

I am sure there was a Torfaen printers crying out to do 20,000 leaflets for someone.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Changing my mind on the ballot paper

The AV ballot paper was the first whereby I still was unsure upon putting a crossing in one or the other.

I have steadfastly maintained a 'if you want PR, Vote No'. But given that I fail to see how the two main Westminster parties will ever act like Turkey's voting for christmas over PR, I changed my mind and voted yes.

I think people will vote no anyway, although a yes vote won by the celtic nations would be a good, even if a little mischievous. The more we can make the English realise the UK is a bum deal, the better.

Friday, 15 April 2011

The 100% Positive Canvass

It strikes me that some in the political class who don't go through the business of trying to win elections claim a sense of one up man ship. I have respect for anyone willing to face the public in ultimately is a test of popularity of personality, deeds and popularity.

This attitude is found in some taking the piss out of political people who all talk about canvassing in positive terms. 'Great response in town X', of course the election results cannot possibly bear out that (not everyone will get the positive result).

However, I actually believe there are decent reasons for this. Firstly, despite what some will tell you, people are generally welcoming of political campaigners. Granted, you get the same old people saying 'you only see them around election time/I aint voting for none of you', but given they have confirmed they will never vote you can hardly expect political campaigners to prioritise those people.

Secondly, in my view political campaigners are interested in one thing on the door during an election campaign - useful data. You can try to pick up a case and promise to look into it, but with a few weeks until election day, not many cases can be solved in that time. You will record confirmed support for other parties, but identifying your support (confirmed and potential) is ultimately the point of things. This feeds into the 'positive response' comments - you remember the things that ultimately are useful to your goal.

Thirdly, many candidates are still trying to motivate volunteers to help them for free. You wouldn't be human if you hesitated in giving up your time unless you felt it was helping in the wider goal. If your candidate is telling you it is negative and there is no support...

Fourthly, most voters are undecided - yet they decide elections. Political people, ones who will only vote one way no matter what, are a small section of the electorate. Many are undecided, many haven't given it's a moments thought, some don't even know there are elections on. These people's responses range from the 'thanks, will now shut the door and see if I want to vote' to 'thanks, I will now vote for you'. Often canvassing is the only way to reach these voters.

And lastly, I am not wet enough to believe that many people are too polite to do anything but nod, make some non committal "not sure yet", take a leaflet and not really think that much about it.

If you think about it, I have no doubt that many people do encounter a positive response on the door.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

A Question...

When out delivering the postal vote letters in Panteg, I saw a lady who was knocking on doors. I was intrigued, a Labour member around my age in Torfaen?

Alas no, it was a (very nice) young lady who was chasing people up regarding their census forms.

It made me think why something as rather outdated as the Census, but voting isn't?

I wrote about this subject here.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Positive vs. Negative

I always believe that if you are going to criticise something, you have to have an alternative. It is not enough, particularly when we are talking about policy, to merely slate what everyone else is doing.

Politics is a funny old game, one which sometimes can genuinely cut in the public mindset, but often almost run in a parallel world of political speak.

Plaid Cymru's manifesto can be read here.

You would expect me to praise it, but I want to offer more than that, I want to challenge others to come up with better ideas. It is a gauntlet we have thrown down to Labour - one which they cannot ignore. Wales has alot of deep rooted problems, more deep rooted than the current economic problems we are all feeling. Not every idea brought forward will make it into Government policy and not every idea might work as intended (as an aside, I think politicians are often scared stiff of admitting that radical social change through policy has to be slightly trial and error. Clearly there must always be scope to react to unattended reactions to a certain policy.)

However, I am confident and excited that Plaid are the ones with ideas, the ones willing to want to change things. Ultimately this election narrative is about a positive vote for Wales or a negative 'sending a message to London' (which even if you believe, does not even begin to solve any of Wales' problems or improve it).

Labour's headline so far has been "Vote Labour to send a Message to David Cameron and Nick Clegg". Essentially the political equivalent of putting a dog turd through their letterbox or ordering a pizza to be delivered to their house. Messaged delivered, now what?

I am not going to go OTT, I am talking about the narrative, clearly Labour believe (and polls show some support) for the UK focus of these Welsh elections. It is a slow process, but each Assembly election will slowly move away from that focus.

But all we can do is try to speak to as many voters as we can and do so with positive ideas about what we can change, not sending a message to London to a Government we cannot.

Gauntlet thrown down - positive vs negative.

Don't laugh too hard at the Lib Dems

I wrote this in response to this article.

It is interesting that everyone is so dismissive of the Lib Dems, yet their vote (if it does collapse/switch) will make or break many seats.

The whole ‘sell out’ schtick as been done to death. The Lib Dems would have been halving the deficit in a term with Labour, raising tuition fees on the Browne Review etc.

However, the total reversal of policy is only one part of the story, it is the total misunderstanding of what motivated their voters that will be the death of the Lib Dems. The Lib Dem growth was built on pitching at centre-left voters and just about holding together soft Tories who wouldn’t vote Labour, with an underpinning of tactical voting in most seats.

I genuinely believe that the Liberal Democrat do not have a USP in British politics. Liberals exist in all the other parties; UKIP, Tories, Labour, Plaid and Green. It is a neat but totally inept explanation to maintain the Lib Dems USP is ‘liberal vs authoritarian’.

Without the outsider, nice, tactical vote, you have the figure of ‘real’ liberal voters – that is all that is left from their poll figures.

So while we can all guffaw at the Lib Dems plight, I think we all might need to consider how much we look at our own parties. Understanding your vote and not assuming that they are all passionately for your policies is crucial with such a potential mobile electorate.

…and yes, in all the close seats in Wales, it could well be the collapse or switching of the Lib Dem vote than wins and loses those seats.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

The Social Mobility Myth

Social Mobility, who doesn't want more of it?

Well a fair number of people actually. Social mobility according to our politicians is a win-win. Stories of kids eating sawdust and bathing outdoors turning into high flying lawyers or some of those chinless successful business gurus we see.

That is only half the story.

I am generally someone who believes there is a finite amount of money and resources to go around. You can make gains or losses, there is always room for change, but generally it is about redistributing a finite cake.

The other half of the social mobility story is the one the ex-sawdust eater has replaced. This person would have been born into a wealthy family, got access to far more chances but had their place taken by the ex-sawdust eater.

Which is why we never actually see anything done by successive Westminster Governments. Ultimately social mobility will include alot of wealthy (nb. powerful) people's kids doing less well. While Britain remains one of the most unequal in Europe (after a decade or so of Labour Government no less), social mobility is a pipe dream and just the same hollow promise the last Government made.

From what I can see, social mobility is more prevalent in more equal societies. I would argue this because it makes moving up or down the ladder is not so extreme. The ex-sawdust eater would perhaps only go up a little bit to be deemed a move up, the rich kid vice versa downwards.

The fact is a society as unequal as Britian is never going to engender widespread social mobility. Life chances, a leg up and opportunity is hived off and guarded jealously by those that can access it. And lets be honest, given I have moved up the social mobility ladder, I am keen to give my kids everything they can to maintain that upwardly mobile curve. Some of the left demonise that, but I am a product of succeeding in spite of the system, don't demonise me for wanting my kids to succeed working with the current system.

I am all for increasing working class opportunity and positively doing something about it. One of the best ideas I heard was from Peter Wilby in the New Statesman - he argued that every single school, state and private should be given two places a year each to Oxford and Cambridge. The best two pupils in that year, from bog standard comp to Eton, would get the place.

Of course that is far to radical for the political class or even many non-working class people - it's far too fair and takes away their inbuilt advantages. And that my friends, is why social mobility is broken in the UK.

Friday, 8 April 2011

The media penalty

It was good to see a balanced article from Duncan Higgitt @ Wales Home that tries to flesh out some wider societal factors in how the electorate is changing but isn't so to speak in Wales. There are a number of factors that I think both sides of the Labour/Plaid divide are willing to truly face up to - the media.

It is certainly not my intention to play down local campaigning, only today I was canvassing with Ron Davies and without that personal contact with Ron himself, no media coverage would have won those voters over to Plaid. However, I feel we shy away from the debate as to how the (lack of) Welsh media inhibits our political culture.

Firstly, the Labour side. There is no mystery to why there is no real desire for Labour in Wales to put things onto a firmly Welsh footing, regardless of some of Senedd Labour being comfortable with that. Peter Hain will not utter two setences this campaign without mentioning another Government in another parliament. Labour only even present devolved policies in the context of how bad the Westminster Government. Interesting that free prescriptions and bus passes were not used in such a way when Labour was in power in Westminster.

The simple fact remains is that the UK focus of the media and the Welsh electorate's consumption of that media benefit Labour, Tory and Lib Dems. It affords column inches, television and radio time - and that in turn even filters down into the little Welsh focused media we have. Even the Lib Dems must be glad of this focus, mainly because at least in Westminster what they are doing in Government actually is received by the Welsh electorate.

Which leaves me to the Plaid side of this divide. Anecdotal evidence from the Westminster election (an extreme example granted) was that Plaid hardly featured in the election media they consumed, apart from the passing reference (with notice paid due to my nagging) to "something about the debates".

It is very difficult for us to truly publicly put forward this issue. Ultimately, much of the levers of change are out of our hands, it is to Plaid's great credit that it has grown since devolution and the fact is that public opinion is clearly on the side of those who want more autonomy for Wales. I am not sure if it will be enough for us all to be 'winning the argument' but not winning more seats.

Perhaps I have some knowledge of this, but bet if you blind tested Plaid's manifesto against Labour's manifesto, particularly their Westminster manifesto, your Labour voter would probably agree with more Plaid. That is my view of course, so has not really been tested (or could be given it would be very difficult to 'blind' the test).

My concern is that the media focus means the amplification, the ability to kick up a stink, make headlines, drive the debate is not available to us as a party.

That is not meaning to be negative, it is an inherent positive. Plaid come across very well when it gets a chance; Question Time etc. My concern is that sometimes our very best work can exist in a vacuum away from people's eyes and ears.

I don't have all the solutions and I am talking about the societal and generational challenges we face, rather than anything Plaid are doing wrong. However I believe it is disingenuous of our enemies and many commentators when they judge our progress or otherwise without talking about the elephant in the room - the blanket media coverage we cannot get.

Scotland provides a rather fine example of this effect in reverse. A media that is plentiful, scottish and the broadest audience. Devolution of broadcasting, the federalisation of the BBC and even Plaid making the case for people to consume Welsh media (there is strong case in terms of relevane to people's lives given devolution's journey) are things that are tangible in this endeavour.

I know this is a bit 'no shit sherlock' but I think it's fair we are all honest enough to admit the handicap we face at times, particularly when people say that 'people don't want to hear from Plaid', "a tiny minority support independence" (funny 2/3 support more powers is spoken about) when reviewing polls and/or elections.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Drakeford's proof is in the pudding

Mark Drakeford's article seems like a decent attempt at providing some thought to the basis of post-May coalitions. It all seems a bit "well who wouldn't be for that?" in places, but that is natural for the setting out of parameters.

I was particularly taken with this;

3. Content
My third principle shifts to the issue of content. Here, two key components seem to me to be essential in resolving the difficulties which agreeing content inevitably throw up:

1.Any final joint programme should contain only items which had been put before the electorate by either one party or the other.
2.It must not contain any item which had been explicitly rejected in the election by either of the coalition partners.

Number two is on such shakey ground you couldn't drink a pint stood on it. Can you think of one Plaid policy Labour hasn't apparently rejected? Hell even ones that later we found out their Ministers have put forward?

I would extend the question the other way, but aside from Carwyn's rehashed education promise I haven't actually seen a Labour policy to rubbish.

Point one is reasonable, but again I am not sure if it is chicken and egg stuff. Two coalition partners can have different policies on a big issue, a referendum is the best example to make my point. The two parties could agree to hold a referendum, but campaign on different sides or on a middle ground issue. The AV referendum is a case in point, but ultimately it represented what the ConDems would argue is a middle ground between the refusnik Tories and the pro-reform Lib Dems.

Oh yeah, remember only Labour went into the election promising a referendum on AV, most of their MPs ditched that promise when the Governing parties brought it in.

And I think Mr Drakeford misses another point - the Westminster parties offering non-devolved sweeteners. It seems a bit amiss that Drakeford is all talk about the two points above, but make's no mention of what being in power in Westminster can do to aid an offer of coalition. I will eat my hat if Rhodri Morgan never made it clear that Labour in Westminster would make sure the passage would be secured on the referendum. Nick Bourne will offer the willingness of a man whose party is in power in Westminster this time and even Plaid have raised the issue of 'What can Labour offer us?'

I fail to see how things not in the manifesto are totally off limits, but promises on non-devolved areas are given a free ride? Personally I think both are fair game depending on the circumstances.

Ultimately Mr Drakeford is a Labour candidate, however thoughtful. His list represents a fair ish but ultimately still slanted offer. It is there to make sure that anyone dealing with Labour are limited in their demands, while Labour can attempt to 'reject' any policies from other parties and therefore render them unacceptable post election.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

The Fourth Estate of another place

It is important to raise this issue prior to the end of the campaign because I don't want it to be written off as a whinge or special pleading. It is important to also make clear this is hardly a revolutionary new viewpoint.

The Welsh media landscape is clearly not fit for purpose for a functioning democracy.

I'm not an instinctive BBC-basher, I am a wholly satisfied license fee payer on the whole. But I am have grown increasingly angry at the way the corporation covers Welsh politics. My blood boiled when we had a BBC Question Time in Newport that included a question about who John Terry was shagging, but not one question on a devolved issue. It made my blood boil that the referendum panel show they hosted feature a pretty unscreened audience who were a rabid in their approval of abolishing the assembly.

On the day of the referendum, a vote that impacts on all parts of the UK, we had wall to wall of the Barnsley by-election, which wasn't even a competitive seat, without any coverage of the referendum. Now we have the London media giving reams of coverage to the AV Referendum with but barely a passing mention to elections in Wales and Scotland.

To me there are a number of things that can be done - the BBC has to be the beginning, but not the end. Firstly, Wales needs it's own six oclock news - one which focuses on global, devolved and UK events, but through a Welsh lens.

Secondly, Wales has to have a monthly question time devoted to devolved matters with only Welsh representatives on the panel. No more Kelvin Mackenzie/Janet Street Porter etc talking about England only policies beamed from Swansea. I think a monthly show is a fair ask.

Thirdly, Plaid must make devolution of broadcasting a massive priority. The fact is that any new democracy needs a free and fair media that reports on the things happening in said nation. Wales is being let down. I believe that devolution will flourish if we have a media that transmit this focus to the Welsh people.

It is unacceptable that many Welsh voters are not consuming any news that will inform them of the Welsh Assembly election. This is particularly important and doable when we have a state funded media outlet in the BBC.

To put my Plaid hat on - it is a massive issue that Plaid cannot put across their ideas through the media that Welsh people primarily consume. While there are no easy answers with the printed press, there has to be pressure being put on the BBC to properly reflect this democratic deficit.

And let's be clear, the lack of Welsh focus suits the other three parties very well. No token 'England only' mentions will disguise the fact that all news was focused on the three Westminster parties talking about NHS Reforms.

I also think we need to look at any way we can encourage local media companies to set up media outlets - online, radio, print or tv to provide Wales focused news and comment.

Coalitions and Negotiations

Earlier I posted about coalitions being relatively new things in British politics, however less new in Welsh politics. The question that always punctuates Welsh General Elections is one of who Party X would work with in a coalition.

These questions are never answered - often for good reasons, other times for bad reasons. Firstly, in an ideal world, each party would answer that question openly and honestly. They could openly discuss why they could work with this party but not that party, or indeed be open to any party provided certain criterion were met.

I said an ideal world on purpose, primarily because all the parties use any inkling of this honesty as a stick to beat people with. Labour continually use the 'Plaid won't rule out of working with Tories' line and Plaid have also raised Labour working the Lib Dems (ie the ConDems) as an affront. I sense the Tories and Lib Dems are just trying to show a bit of leg to anybody who will have them this election.

The reality there is no ideal world as long as you have parties fighting each other in elections. I am actually a bit dissapointed we couldn't all be a bit more grown up about things, particularly as what the parties do say is pretty standard negotiation practice which we all partake in. Don't show your cards too early, don't limit your choices as it weakens your hand, never say never etc.

Moving on, I know there is some debate, even within Plaid about how much or how little coalitions should be discussed pre polling day. I can accept the view that talking about them prior to polling day can potentially appear to water down a party's appeal as a stand alone party, but it could also potentially appear to water down credibility if any party maintains massively unrealistic projections.

I suppose things will never change because quite rightly parties need to offer their vision and policies that they would bring if they were handed sole power. It would also at a stroke make their manifestos nothing more than 'to discuss' documents.

It is my view that the 'stop Labour ruling alone' message is pertinent and should be explored by all parties. I will return with my own view on potential coalitions this week.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Peter fails to pot the black...again

I find Peter Black’s blog readable and enjoyable. He writes with the correct amount of mischief, politicking and good humour needed for a blog to be so. He also gives his opponents a huge amount of fertile ground to remind him of the real world outside of his own head.

So in this post he is quite correct to assume that Plaid Cymru cannot merely attack their joint record with Labour in the Assembly. But he does the classic trick of blathering on about something else for most of the post and hoping we don’t notice the not so subtle connection he is trying to make.

Plaid Cymru were never in Government with Labour in Westminster. The two issues that Plaid have raised - spending cuts and barnett formula reform - are not devolved. It is perfectly correct and in keeping with taking responsibility for our record in Government to make clear Labour’s intentions on these issues.

This is particularly important, as Peter will well know himself, when Labour’s campaign appears to consist of histrionics over ‘savage cuts’ from Westminster. As I understand it, Labour’s proposed cuts UK were £14billion, the ConDems were £16billion - at what point is one savage and one is Ed Milliband’s nice cuts?

As a brief aside, I do think that the left in general need to seriously up their game when talking about an alternative to cuts. Personally I am of the view that it is the wrong debate to argue, as Labour have, that you can oppose every cut but not suggest an alternative strategy. And before it seems like I am singling out one party, there can be no dispute whatever the reason that Labour in Government left that deficit, hence why there an absolute focus on them.

To return to my original point. Plaid Cymru did everything a coalition partner in a devolved Welsh Assembly could do regarding Barnett Reform. It insisted on the Holtham commission which forced Labour what it had known for decades - that the Barnett Formula was unfair to Wales. I am not sure if even Peter Black is colour blind enough to believe that Plaid Cymru could have somehow forced New Labour to change the formula also.

The fact that Labour proposed even faster cuts than the ConDems in Wales should be made the number one issue every time Labour utter a breath in this campaign.

Friday, 1 April 2011

David 'WTF' Cameron

I take a view that everyone's political outlook is built on an initial desire to shape society for the better as they see fit. Perhaps I am going soft as I get older (28 this week no less), but people of the right wing believe in things as a better way of doing things, much like myself of the left.

So I am decent enough I hope to try to understand the intentions of some on the right. Cutting taxes is not about savagery, but about the intention of giving people more money to spend as they see fit. I don't agree of course, however I don't take the view that those on the right are morally moribund people and we on the left as just nicer and somehow more justified in our beliefs.

Which leads me onto David Cameron. In Swansea, that is the same city he refused to electrify the rail line to, he said that the Tories are delivering for Wales.

Indeed, apparently having less cuts in Wales (minus the principle of need of course - which is at least £300m a year with Barnett) should be a sign of how well he is doing and also that given his brilliant success that we should vote it through in Cardiff Bay.

It seems 'Labour's mess, Tories Bullshit' is rather apt. I have yet to see a Tory government deliver for Wales throughout history (Adam Price's speech in Llandudno 2009 was a fantastic expose of this); the day they do, hell will freeze over.