Friday 26 October 2012

Horse Trading

The Boundary Commission for Wales has published revised proposals for reducing the number of Westminster seats from 40 to 30 (here). Whether the plan will ever be implemented is another question because, with the LibDems set to join Labour in opposing the changes, the chances of this reform going through are slim. However a recent intervention by Jonathan Edwards opens up some very interesting possibilities.

Under the changes Wales stands to lose proportionally far more of its representation than England, Scotland or Northern Ireland (10, 31, 7 and 2 seats respectively) and we face a future in which an overwhelmingly non-Tory voting Wales ends up being governed by what would usually be Tory majority governments in Westminster.

Welsh votes would rarely count in determining who governs the UK, and the Welsh voice, barely heard in UK politics under Labour or the Tories, would never be more than an impotent squeak.

On the face of it, then, there is nothing to recommend the proposals in the case of Wales apart from fairness. Why should Aberconwy (electorate of just over 45,000 in 2010) count as much as Manchester Central (89,500)?

The reason for these discrepancies is that historically Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland were compensated for being tied into a very unequal union with over-representation at Westminster.

As the Tories' proposals stand, then, Wales would lose a quarter of its representation, find itself even more marginalised in UK politics and have to put up with Tory governments in London to boot, with nothing in return.

In what is a textbook example of realpolitik, Jonathan Edwards is proposing to turn this bleak outlook to the advantage of Wales as a whole by offering to vote for the new boundaries the Tories are so desperate to get in return for a  new constitutional settlement with a substantial increase in the devolution of powers, including police, criminal justice, energy and broadcasting (see piece by Adrian Masters here).

If Plaid were joined by the SNP and the DUP, the Tories would be able to muster enough votes to get the measure through, and would be able to justify the concessions they have to make to the smaller parties by arguing that they were doing it in the interests of their beloved union.

If he pulls it off, Jonathan will almost single-handedly have transformed the future of Wales.

On a more parochial level, Cneifiwr was disappointed to see from the Boundary Commission's revised proposals that Cenarth ward (known to the rest of the world as Newcastle Emlyn) is still set to be hived off to a new constituency made up of Ceredigion with a bit of Pembrokeshire thrown in.

Apparently the people of Maenclochog were up in arms about being lumped in with all those hill farmers and hambons to the north, and have persuaded the Commission that they would be much better off in the more upmarket constituency of South Pembrokeshire, so to try to balance the numbers, the Commission has decided to grab another bit of Carmarthenshire in the shape of Llangeler ward (better known as Drefach Felindre) and chuck that into the new Ceredigion and North Pembrokeshire constituency instead.

Moving little bits of Wales from one constituency to another is not the end of the world, but if the proposals go ahead, the people of Newcastle Emlyn and Drefach Felindre will find that while they are still in Camarthenshire for council purposes, they will vote in three different constituencies for Westminster, the Welsh Assembly and the European Parliament.

The Commission justifies these changes by arguing that Maenclochog has closer ties with Narberth than its does with distant Cardigan, and that Llangeler has close ties with Llandysul. Both statements are true, but in making them the Commission is highlighting the absurdity of council and political boundaries in many parts of Wales.

What would have made much more sense for Wales was a single commission charged with looking at all council and other boundaries in Wales with a view to scrapping a good many of the 22 local authorities we are saddled with at the same time as rejigging the Westminster and Welsh Assembly constituencies.

But that would have required the sort of leadership and imagination Labour seems to be incapable of giving us.


Anonymous said...

Didn't you miss the point about devolution?

Cneifiwr said...

The point being?

Anonymous said...

While I am in favour of the Assembly I am against giving them any more powers until they show that they are bringing us more local democracy.

WAG was sold to us on the premise that decisions would be made closer to home, but in reality many of the decisions that affect us are made by unelected council officers instead of county councillors and AM’s.

I want WAG to interfere in local government and force councils to be more democratic because asking them to is simply not working.

Jonathan Edwards has a great idea, but it will only work for us (the poor souls of Carmarthenshire) if WAG first stamps on the overly powerful Chief Executives of the 22 unitary Authorities and reminds them that they are public servants.

towy71 said...

Horse trading indeed; though my feeling is that the old nag that is the "con-dems" is due only for the knackers yard, most of what they are pushing is unfit for human consumption!

Anonymous said...

I think they still need one or two independents don't they? eg Lucas the Green or Galloway? And then they also need all of the Tories to support. How likely is this to happen? But, personally, I hope Edwards can pull it off. ;-)

Cibwr said...

Personally I look forward to the day that Wales has no MPs at Westminster... but until that day I can't deny the logic in having the same electorate per constituency across the union. Having said that Wales gets a very raw deal, our National Assembly can only do what its expressly allowed to by Westminster, the lace doily of powers looks more ragged by the day. If anything we need to move to the reserved powers model with a clear separation of what it and what Westminster can do. So all power to Jonathan Edwards.

If you want to look at a reform of local government I have some ideas.. mainly about democratising the executive bodies and introducing proper regional government - while retaining the counties for less strategic functions and strengthening community councils... have a look at my very occasional blog for more ideas.

Welsh not British said...

At least we have someone standing up for Wales. Well done JE.

Anonymous said...

This is the best piece of news I've read all month (sorry, just got to it through Jonathan Edward's twitter).

Excellent, da iawn Joni! This is the kind of street fighting I want to see from Plaid. Of course Labour will go on and on about 'propping up the Tories' but if we get more power to the Assembly then tough luck on the Brit Nats in labour like Owen Smith. If they don't want Carwyn Jones to have more power then obviously they don't think the Labour party in Wales is up to much.

No, stick to your guns, Joni. Get the Tories something to offer the Lib Dems and we're home and dry.

If the Brit nats in labour want Westminster to rule over us then they've got to abide by Westminster rules. Owen Smith is very ready to undermine Welsh nationality at every opportunity so he can't have it both ways.

I pray some of the the useful idiots in Plaid don't come weak kneed about 'working with the Tories' or whinging about it being ok to have asymetric constituencies.

Da iawn Joni. Go for it!


Iestyn said...

Anon 18.33 has a good point about the Labour tactic, and the importance of a Welsh party. Labour would sacrifice their own grannies to "send a message to the Tories", and regularly expect us to hand our grannies over as well. This is Brit politics writ large.

If Plaid can get an advantage for devolution for the price of losing a bit of our non-existent-anyway influence in Westminster, then full marks to them.

Y crwt said...

Beth yw'r ots gennyf I am loegr