Friday, 20 July 2007

The Carpenters

I resisted the temptation to make any predictions on the shape of the cabinet which Morgan and Jones (Carpenters to the Gentry) would produce, so I can’t say “I told you so”. But I can comment with all the benefit which hindsight endows upon us.

Of the two men, Morgan had the easiest decision to make – who to sack. He only had to get rid of one person; the only question was who. If one assumes that he had already made his judgement about who he wanted in the Cabinet, and who he was only prepared to make junior ministers, then it was always more likely that it would be a junior minister rather than a cabinet minister who went.

That left him with a choice of four – Gwenda Thomas, John Griffiths, Leighton Andrews, or Huw Lewis. Huw Lewis clearly believes that he has been sacked for opposing the coalition with Plaid. That may well have played a part; but the reasons for sackings and promotions in politics are rarely the obvious ones.

Jones, on the other hand, had a much harder task – which three of his colleagues to make ministers (and, by definition, therefore, which 10 to leave on the back benches). Given that one of the briefs handed to Plaid was Rural Affairs, the choice of Elin Jones was an obvious one – it is a brief which she has mastered well in opposition, and there can be few who would doubt her ability to perform well in the role. The others are, perhaps, less obvious choices.

However, what interests Ceredig is not so much who has been appointed, but the reasoning behind it; for this is anything but a normal appointment process as understood by most of we humble wage slaves. There are no assessment centres, no interviews, no rigorous reading of cv’s, no careful comparisons between the person spec and the individual – and no need to justify the appointments to anyone afterwards. These are appointments made entirely on the whim of the party leaders, and the reasons for those appointments will only ever be fully understood by the people making them. But we can at least try….

Much of the speculation in advance concerned the relative abilities of the players – as perceived by those of us outside the loop, of course. There was, though, some speculation about other issues which might be taken into account. The Western Mail, I recall, suggested that what it euphemistically – and rather kindly, I thought – described as the “flamboyant image” of Rhodri Glyn Thomas might tell against him. (They return to this rich vein of euphemism in today’s paper, saying that Mr Thomas, a minister of religion, “could not be described as pious”, and is one of the Assembly’s “most colourful characters”. It will be interesting to observe whether the responsibility of his new role, and his performance in it, will be enough to give the Western Mail reason to stop searching out new euphemisms.)

We should never forget that most politicians receive their training in the basic skills at the famed Hogwash Academy. (Incidentally, one of the Academy’s ring binders – obviously belonging to one of the students – fell into my hands recently as a result of being accidentally left on the BayCar. I may well share some of the Academy’s secrets in future posts). Central to the Academy’s teaching is that appointments are made on the basis of what suits the interests of the leader first and foremost.

The first thing to bear in mind is that no-one gets to the top of his or her party by being ‘Mr Nice Guy’. Climbing that particular greasy pole requires a combination of personal ambition, belief in one’s own absolute rightness on all issues and occasions, raw cunning, the ability to manipulate others, disloyalty to those higher up the pole, and a willingness to engage in a degree of deceit where necessary (and those are just the internal party skills!).

The second thing to bear in mind is that every person who possesses those skills in sufficient quantity to reach the top necessarily believes that everyone lower down on the pole is prepared to behave in exactly the same way as they did in order to reach the top. The result is that all political leaders inevitably suffer from a degree of paranoia, where they assume that all their colleagues are prepared to treat them in the way in which they would be prepared to treat their colleagues. Distrust is thus universal and all-pervasive.

So the game becomes one of putting people into positions where they can do least damage to the leader – and then keeping them there. As President Lyndon B Johnson once famously put it, sometimes it’s better to have someone “inside the tent p*ssing out, than outside the tent p*ssing in”. (Of course, if their aim is poor, it doesn’t make a lot of difference whether they’re inside or outside the tent – which at least explains the Huw Lewis decision.)

As for the Plaid decisions, well, it looks to me as though Jones has managed to avoid giving jobs either to the die-hard Rainbowistas (who probably didn't want to serve with Labour) or the die-hard antis (whom he would have difficulty trusting). Maybe he really just didn’t have that much room left to manoeuvre.

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

Keeping the dream alive

I thought we were going to hear the fat lady singing on Monday, but it looks as though Rhodri Morgan’s untimely indisposition will keep her waiting in the wings a little longer yet. With the Assembly about to break up for the summer, I hope that there is someone out there who can re-assure us that that doesn’t mean that nothing can be decided until after the recess, leaving the whole summer free for more twists and turns before she eventually emerges into the limelight, because the audience will be long gone before then.

I admit to having half-feared, right to the last, that the rainbow conjurors, Bourne and Jones, would somehow manage to perform some final act of prestidigitation which would make One Wales disappear in a puff of smoke, and reveal the All-Wales Accord standing in its place. Merlin Morgan’s wizardry proved to be the more powerful in the end.

However, as Cleckanndra points out, one thing that this is not is a pact between two groups of socialists, whatever Adam Price might be saying. (Although I cannot agree either with Cleckanndra’s assertion that this was a vote for Independence. It has more to do with self-interest than self-government, I fear).

It has become fashionable in some circles to say that we are in a ‘post-ideological’ era, but here at Ceredig House, we’re not convinced by that argument.

If there is an apparent lack of ideological divide between the parties, it is a result not of society (and the needs of the people) moving past ideology, but of a situation where all the parties have come to accept the basic constructs of the status quo. That is to say, we have a market-driven economy and four parties which all want to play at managing and controlling that market-driven economy. When politicians talk about ‘post-ideological’ politics, what they are saying is that they accept that Capitalism has won, and that globalisation is now an inevitable fact of life.

None of the parties is, any longer, offering a serious alternative – or even a critique – of that system. In a sense, all four of the main parties at the recent election offered, at core, a form of social democracy, and that ‘consensus’ is what created the circumstances in which alternative coalition arrangements became possible.

That is not to say that there are not people in both the Labour Party and Plaid who hold to an alternative view of society; there are. But they are now being marginalised. There is nothing new here for socialists in the Labour Party; they’ve been a marginalised minority for decades. But I suspect that some members of Plaid, who’ve always had difficulty understanding how the ‘good socialists’ in the Labour Party could remain in that party despite everything that the party’s leaders have said and done in the pursuit of power will start to show a great deal more understanding as they find themselves in a similar position.

As Plaid move into government, that party too will find that its ‘good socialists’ are uncomfortable with the decisions taken in the party’s name, uncomfortable with blatant careerism, and uncomfortable with accepting market driven decisions. And they, too, will come to realise that there is simply nowhere else for them to go.

Normal Mouth makes a cogent case for the Labour Party to embrace the devolutionary agenda in order to undermine Plaid; the debate in that thread is an interesting one. NM is clearly right that Plaid would be reluctant to make the case for outright Independence at this stage. The party’s leader is not convinced about the policy anyway, and most of the sensible members of the party have always believed that any progress would be gradual. I accept that the path proposed by NM would effectively settle the constitutional status of Wales for many decades to come.

The question that I would ask is whether that then opens the door for the political realignment that we really need, rather than the one we appear to be getting – the one which allows socialists to come together within that agreed constitutional arrangement, to start offering a real alternative to the market-driven economy.

The Red-Green deal looks to me like a form of reconciliation between the devolutionary social democratic wing of Welsh Labour and the pragmatic social democratic wing of Plaid, and that may well be for the good of Wales in the short term. But in the longer term, Wales needs to be offered the real alternative which is currently failing by default.

Friday, 6 July 2007

A spoonful of sugar

I suspect that it will hardly come as a surprise if I join the throng of those predicting a yes vote by Labour tonight and again by Plaid tomorrow. The wisdom of the majority hasn’t always (in fact, hardly ever!) been proved right over the past few weeks, but it looks as though we might actually have got it right this time.

Perversely, I find myself wondering whether that success might not be precisely because this particular proposal is one which is engendering so little enthusiasm – on either side. Seriously, apart from serial blogger AlaininDyfed, and Adam Price, converted rainbow supporter, who is actually enthusiastic for this deal?

Labour are busily tearing themselves apart very publicly, and even supporters of the deal seem to be supporting the deal with great reluctance. Indeed, most of the Labour supporters seem to be voting against the rainbow, rather than for the Labour-Plaid deal. This is despite the fact that the rainbow has been very publicly and irrevocably killed off by Ieuan Wyn Jones, who claims that he simply cannot depend on the ever-fickle Lib Dems. So Labour’s support will be the result of a majority of their members voting against an idea which is no longer even on the table.

Things look no better from Plaid’s perspective. The deal will be supported by the left in order to ensure that the rainbow does not rise, Dracula-style, from the dead; and by a proportion of rainbow supporters who will do almost anything to avoid another four years in opposition. So Plaid’s support will also be the result of a majority of members voting against something else, rather than for this deal.

So, today and tomorrow, both parties will vote for something for which there is no real majority in either, and a lot of bitter pills will be swallowed in the process. Pass the sugar bowl.

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

Ever Been Had? (continued...)

My mole at the BBC tells me that Plaid did indeed lodge a formal complaint with both the BBC and the Western Mail over the story about ‘Hayzell David’ and her ‘paper’ proposing a merger between Labour and Plaid.

The complaint was strongly rejected however by the Western Mail, whose Chief Reporter, Martin Shipton, apparently claimed that he had received the paper not from ‘Ms David’ herself, but from another source within Plaid. This source is regarded by him as being completely reliable.

Assuming that Mr Shipton is telling the truth (and the laws of libel preclude me from making any other assumption for the purposes of this post, although the little ditty which Chesterton wrote about journalists does float through my mind as I write), this seems to raise more questions than it answers.

I have not been privy to a copy of the ‘paper’ itself, but I am given to understand that ‘paper’ is rather a grand description for what amounts to half a side of A4, and that the ‘extracts’ quoted in Saturday’s Western Mail amount to virtually the whole of the said ‘paper’.

I am also told that the distribution of the paper was rather strange – although the Western Mail claims that it was written for the Women’s section, it was apparently not even sent to the officers of that section – although curiously it was sent to a number of male members of the party.

Given that, in comments to my previous post, the only reference anyone can find to the name ‘Hayzell’ is as a man’s name, what then is the basis of the Western Mail’s claim that this person is an ‘activist in the women’s section’, or that this paper is in any way connected with that section? It clearly fits the Western Mail’s agenda for this to be so, of course. The paper has previously attacked Plaid’s use of the Regional List seats to attempt to achieve a degree of gender balance, and is desperate to try and link the story in some way to the ‘Helen Mary Four’. I always hesitate before hurling an accusation of misogyny – but in this case my hesitation would not be a lengthy one.

The answer – the only answer possible – is that the link to the Women’s section is based entirely on the faith placed by the Western Mail on the unnamed Plaid source who fed them the document. So, is that faith justified? It doesn’t really seem to me that it stands up to any attempt to apply a reasonable degree of journalistic diligence.

If the paper was indeed written by a member of Plaid’s Women’s section, who for some unfathomable reason chose to write under a pseudonym, why would it not have been sent to the officers of the section? Any activist would certainly have had their addresses.

If the Western Mail’s reliable source was really anywhere near the centre of Plaid’s activity, then he or she would have known that the name was false, and that the paper would have zero credibility within the party.

Perhaps the ‘source’ was him or herself the author of the paper, and was trying to upset the applecart in advance of this week’s meetings to ratify the agreement between Plaid and Labour. But he or she would know that any future credibility with the Western Mail would be irreparably damaged as a result of such an amateurish attempt at deceit.

Alternatively, the source could him or herself have fallen for the hoax, and believed the truth of it in passing it on – but again, that would indicate that this source is someone pretty peripheral to the party’s activity, if they were so easily taken in by this one.

Expect the Western Mail to continue to defend the indefensible in their reporting of this story, publicly at least. But I’ll bet that there’s one ‘source’ to whom they’ll pay considerably less attention in future.

Sunday, 1 July 2007

Ever Been Had?

The Western Mail ran this curious story yesterday by their Chief Reporter, Martin Shipton. It claims that an activist called Hayzell David, in Plaid's Women's Section, has written a discussion paper calling for a merger between Plaid and the Labour Party. The said Mr Shipton then went on Good Morning Wales to expand on his story, acting the role of wise pundit. But something didn't seem quite right to me. It wasn't just the odd spelling (Hayzell. Really - anyone ever seen that one before?); the story just didn't ring true.

So I asked around a little - you know, who is this Hayzell David? None of my Plaid contacts have ever heard of her, and she most certainly is not an activist in the Women's Section. Sadly, Ceredig House does not have access to Plaid's membership records, but I wouldn't be at all surprised to see the party disowning her publicly in the next day or two.

Back to the odd spelling - any clues there? An anagram perhaps? A few minutes' work with pencil and paper produced "Lazy Devil Had". Clearly, someone has been well and truly had - so who is the "Lazy Devil"? Surely this couldn't possibly be a less than complimentary reference to the journalistic diligence of the Western Mail's Chief Reporter? You might think that, I couldn't possibly comment. He surely checked out the bona fides of Ms David thoroughly before running his story didn't he?

I expect some red faces at the Western Mail and the BBC over the next day or so. And maybe Peter Black and Ordovicius will think twice in future before believing anything they read in our 'national newspaper'.