Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Other Kirsty's Unliveblog

A confession, then; I wasn't actually in the hall for the leader's speech at conference. In my defence, as a man of Gloucester I was next door in Dempsey's being ritually humiliated by the Cardiff Council section of the Blues fan club. Still, when the other Kirsty (as opposed to my Kirsty) beat that confession out of me in the traditional politician's manner of being nice to me, I could at least promise that I'd get out the iPlayer and do an unliveblog of it, so here goes...

Let's not kid ourselves, it's a tentative start, but as Daran Hill said in the build-up, it probably ought to be. Then again, it's not a text that's lending itself to quick hits, though I suppose front-loading the facts of the first 100 days is a necessary evil in this scenario. But while it's all very true and very worthy, you can see from the hall that it's not exactly exciting stuff, talking more to the room than the cameras.

And then the first punch-out line is punctuated by a very unusual usage; girl as an interjection instead of boy. The etymologists will have to judge on whether that's actually the unnecessary regendering of an expression that it feels like, but I suppose if you're going to underline the election of a female leader, you might as well go the whole hog with it.

Still, it takes us onto the traditional Lib Dem turf of civil liberties, which in the Welsh context is exactly what's required. At the UK level we spend far too much time ploughing our safe ground when we should be kicking Labour and the Tories off theirs; in Wales, the way to kick Plaid off their supposed safe ground is to point out that it isn't their safe ground at all, that while they are left-wing, they are communist, not progressive and certainly not liberal.

The text is starting to come alive now, and much as Toby would criticise Will for it you have to love a line like "where your character and not your credit limit opens up opportunities".

And again this question of what conference is for. As someone who feels we must trumpet the open debate of policy that characterises our conferences (if only to put the lie to the idea that Labour members can absolve themselves of the sins of their government by claiming "well I'm still a socialist" when their party inherently doesn't give a toss what they think) the BBC coverage was hugely frustrating for the extent to which it doggedly stuck by the idea that the purpose of conference is for the leader to take on the party and win. We demonstrate our power in a different way and at this conference we did that and then some.

Speaking of the powerlessness of Plaid members, now we're getting somewhere, because as Kirsty is saying the Plaid U-turn on tuition fees is about more than an electoral edge in Ceredigion. It's about nothing less than the moment Plaid became New Labour. Because when a party that thinks it is led by its members is told by its leader "I want to ignore the policy you have decided upon and this is a matter of confidence in my leadership" your only option is to kick the living crap out of him. Anything else is an admission that you care more about being in office than delivering your ideas, and from that day on your party has a blackened heart.

It's this issue that is the stick that Kirsty needed to be poked with to really get going; I wish there was a better metaphor for it, but there's no denying that her oratory takes a massive leap when the passion gets behind it. We're getting a tour of all the right issues, including many that aren't covered enough, like how the bust is hitting many places that never had the boom in the first place.

And for a final thought, that distinction again, between slavish left-wing rhetoric of change for change's sake and purposeful change that addresses the systemic flaws as well as the operational minutiae. It's a good place to close because that is the challenge; we're not short of ideas and every day proves yet further that those ideas have been right from the start. What's needed next are the votes to make those ideas real; with more performances like that, both in the Senedd and around the country, those should start to be more forthcoming.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Using The Silver Bullet While It's There

Ah, the joys of a Lib Dem conference agenda. Sid and Doris will know that it's been quite a while since I managed to get to any form of one (pretty much bang on two years, as it goes) and while things are being made fairly easy for me this time, it would be churlish not to go when it's pretty much as close to Cardiff West as it's possible to be without being in Cardiff West (and we'll gloss over the fact that both the Tories and Plaid actually did have their conferences in Cardiff West, splitters...)

Still, it's great to finally be able to get stuck in, if only to help put the lie to one of the more corrosive elements of Plaid's rhetoric. I have no problem with them banging on about how Tory and Labour policy is imposed by diktat from London; that happens to be true. But Welsh Lib Dem policy is made in Wales, by Wales and for Wales and no level of amateurish tubthumping on Plaid's part should distract anyone from that. Then again, I guess you can't expect much from a party whose ignorance of how the Liberal Democrats work (mixed with a soup├žon of cowardice) cost them a shot at running the show...

(Oh, and by the by, I wrote that paragraph before I saw Welsh Ramblings “independent” post outlining how they're sufficiently stupid not to understand what federalism is...)

It's a packed weekend of policy, covering topics ranging from repossession support and affordable housing to high-tech jobs and infrastructure. I'm also duty bound to give a trailer for the motion on retrospective planning application (given that my ward colleague Kirsty Davies is proposing it after we got a similar motion passed by Cardiff Council a few months ago) but I'm hoping that one won't reach any sort of level of controversy. There are undoubtedly some battles to be fought over the weekend, however, although none of the “I'm a new leader hear me roar” type (and let us reflect once more on how impressive Kirsty's comments on the policy making process during the leadership campaign were).

Wrexham and Clwyd South's motion on tackling alcohol abuse is very welcome, and it comes with an interesting amendment calling for the party to oppose minimum pricing of alcohol. It's an important debate and one that should get the philosophy buffs going at full tilt. I suspect I'll come down against the outright statement of opposition; while I have no doubt that the SNP would cock the whole thing up if they introduced it in Scotland (they being, after all, the SNP) I think there are ways to make it work (as I've previously stated with respect to the VAT system generally) and I'd probably prefer to give the Assembly group the discretion to look at it in that context.

IR Cymru (the youth and student wing formerly known as MIDR) have a pretty comprehensive motion calling for compulsory social and sex education in all schools, regardless of ownership or faith status. You'd hope from the constructive nature of the amendments offered that this important change would be backed, but compulsion in education, particularly in the faith sector, is always likely to be divisive.

And then there's the question of direct elections to police authorities. Now I can quite understand why Rhondda Cynon Taf have raised it; the recent shambles of the South Wales Police Authority's budget setting process is well documented and Labour's dominance of that authority was undoubtedly a prime factor in that debacle. Indeed, you may well say that the crippling of South Wales Police because of an edict from Transport House that the council tax precept must not go above five percent had rather a lot to do with the fact that Labour's lead Euro candidate sits on the authority and doesn't want to be branded as a council tax hiker; you may very well say that, I couldn't possibly comment...

It's also worth laying much of the blame for the shambolic nature of the process at the part-time chair of the authority, Russell Roberts. I say part-time, because Russell (who owes his position on the authority to the fact that, outside of the Lib Dem-controlled councils, a seat on the police authority is clearly regarded as being one of the perks of being leader of the council) is also Leader of Rhondda Cynon Taf and Chair of Cwn Taf NHS Trust; can anyone else say Three Jobs Bob?

That being the diagnosis, is direct election of all non-council appointed members the cure? As the motion points out, it's a better idea than the Conservative proposal for directly elected sheriffs (and if you need proof that a single elected official shouldn't be in charge of policing in an area, I'd refer you to a certain B. Johnson, Esq.)

But the existing independent members of the authority aren't the problem and direct election would entail a massive change in their role and function. Certainly, they could be more representative of the communities they represent and more formally in touch with the public (as the Swansea and Gower/Newport amendment suggests) but directly electing them does not necessarily deliver either of those changes.

As for the political side, in case we hadn't noticed we already have the solution; a little thing called PR. Heck, there's even a fringe on that very subject on Sunday lunchtime (and I suspect I'll give in to my inner geek and go to it myself). For all that our opponents may deride us for our commitment to it, we should never forget that it is the biggest single thing we can do to improve the way Britain is governed at every level.

Monday, April 06, 2009

What A Bunch Of Celts

In these harsh economic times, it's nice to see that some organisations are still hiring. Take the Conservatives, who are advertising for a research assistant for Cheryl Gillan and David Mundell.

Yes, that's right, they want one member of staff to work jointly for the Shadow Secretary of State for Wales and the Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland. Because obviously, those two nations are easy to treat as one big whole, being only 155 miles apart and possessing of entirely different legal and political systems...

They can spin 'till they're blue in the mouth, but ultimately, to the Conservatives Wales is still the pink bit 8 inches west of Henley and Scotland is still the pink bit two feet above Potter's Bar.