Friday, 29 April 2011

What's the big idea #3

Like all the other main parties, Plaid claim that their manifesto is the one with the ideas and the vision.  It certainly has the rhetoric of ideas and vision, and if I were awarding the prize for rhetoric, I’d give it to Plaid.  I’m more interested in looking at the substance, though, and asking whether it really does what it says on the tin.
Plaid have four main pledges for this election, and the first has probably received the most attention – the commitment to reduce the level of illiteracy and innumeracy amongst children leaving our primary schools.  It’s an important issue; lack of basic skills is certainly something which holds individuals back from achieving their full potential, and it is unacceptable that our children do not gain these basic skills.
However, stripped of the rhetoric, is this commitment really any more than a statement that primary schools should teach children to read, write, and count?  I wouldn’t want to understate the importance of that as an outcome, but it really doesn’t strike me as a particularly big, or even original, idea.  And I certainly don’t believe that the other parties actually want the current levels of failure to continue, even if they’ve not chosen to give this issue top billing.
The way in which Plaid propose to achieve this result is to learn from best practice elsewhere and then apply it to Wales.  Again, that is a sensible, if not exactly a revolutionary idea.  In fact, it’s a highly managerial approach, essentially similar to what any of the other parties would do (although I don’t think any of the others have set as specific a target as 95% plus, or told us that it will take them nine years to achieve it).
The claim that it is some sort of big idea ultimately boils down to a claim not that Plaid would do something radically different, but that Plaid would deliver on the pledge, whilst the other parties have failed.  That the other parties have failed our children when in government is irrefutable, but why changing the party managing the system will do any better is a good deal less clear.  It is, in effect, another form of the ‘we can manage Wales better’ message.


Anonymous said...

With your on the ground experience of carmarthen west who do you think will take it??

Boncath said...

We are probably facing a generational issue.
Education was traditionally a way out of poverty for many of most Welsh people. fortunately or unfortunately it also offerred a route usually permanently out of Wales
This still applies but what has changed is the impact of television, computer and computer games, calculators and plastic money on the education process.

Additionally parents have not been focused on passing skills on to their children and often offload any responsibility in that area to creches, nurseries and schools

Much as I support Plaid this commitment has very little going for it and lacks any real vision

Anonymous said...

With respect, let's hear your revolutionary ideas? It seems everyone is wrong but you, who has produced nothing beyond pithy blog posts.

Spirit of BME said...

The “Big Idea” series you have run is very accurate and revelling. Of course there is no big idea, is the answer and that comes from politicians who have abandoned ideology and based their shopping list from Focus Group returns. That is one reason they all sound the same.

John Dixon said...


"this commitment has very little going for it"

I don't think that's entirely fair. It's a good, sensible proposal. (Anon 19:18: in similar vein, I didn't say that therre was anything wrong with the idea at all.)

The point, though, is that it isn't particularly 'bold' or 'ambitious'; nor does it set one party apart from the others. Learning from, and applying, best practice from elsewhere is what I expect any new government will do.

The underlying point is that the parties have chosen to fight this election essentially on the question of who would be the best management team to implement what are broadly similar programmes.

Boncath said...

You are of course right in that based on the Assembly election materiel to date. there is a drab blandness to it all.
I get the general feeling here in Sth Pembs that Plaid and the Conservatives are the best organised by far and that Plaid are improving all the time.
What lets us down is what we say is lost in translation to the electorate at large therefore we need to spell out the greater goal much more clearly and much much more often

The key after the election will be Money Money Money

Anonymous said...

None of these 'managerial' polices addresses Wales' root problem - relative poverty resulting from centuries of neglect and bad government.

Institutionally, within the UK, Wales has been at the bottom of the pile. I don't blame it entirely on unionist politicians and parties, although the system they work within is part of the problem. It is self-serving and directs wealth in certain directions.

Unless Wales governs itself it has no possibility of being raised out of this perpetual malaise.

Of course, after self-determination there is no guarantee that prosperity will follow. It's down to the people of Wales, their talents and efforts to ensure it does.

We've left it to others, and we can see only too clearly the outcome. In the final analysis we are largely responsible for the state our country is in.

To my mind Plaid has to keep the idea of 'self-determination' at the heart of its rationale, regardless of the popularity of the notion. Without that, it has nothing.

I'm not inspired with the current leadership and direction the party is taking. Its relative decline in the polls in recent years has been all too predictable. 'Without vision the people perish', as the Good Book says.

Dave Edwards said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
John Dixon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John Dixon said...

Anon 14:51,

"None of these 'managerial' policies addresses Wales' root problem - relative poverty..."

Quite. After decades of arguing that the other parties are merely trying to deal with the symptoms whilst leaving the underlying problems of inequality unaddressed, Plaid's pitch in this election manifesto seems to be more a case of saying that the other parties are right to address the symptoms, but are just incompetent to do so. My own view hasn't changed - that there is nothing wrong with trying to alleviate the symptoms within whatever powers and ability we have, but we should never lose sight of the need to tackle the underlying issues.

Dave Edwards,

I very rarely moderate any comments out, and then only with great reluctance. I initially allowed your comment, but on reflection have concluded that it would be improper to publish information purportedly coming from the opening of postal ballots. I'm sure that your intentions were sincere, and I don't want to stifle debate on other issues, but have concluded that I should delete your comment on this occasion.

Dave Edwards said...


I respect your view and have no complaints

Anonymous said...

why did you take the comments down about Nerys Evans? We know why, you were told to do so by her friends. Surprise surprise. John, they will support their friends but will shaft everyone others, as you experienced. But surely it would be better for you to work with people in Plaid that want to see an alternative?

As chair you didn't have an opinion, and people were expecting you to join in the discussions internally and to propose ideas. The party will suffer tomorrow, and I think you know why they will suffer.

They cannot judge Labour for dirty dealings, when Plaid does it best, and does it best in the public domain.

John Dixon said...


"why did you take the comments down about Nerys Evans? We know why, you were told to do so by her friends."

If you think that I would take a comment down because someone told me to, you know me not very well at all! No-one told me, or even asked me, to take the comment down. I initially published it, and responded to it, and was happy to do so. However, as I explained in my response to Dave Edwards above, I decided on reflection to remove the comment - not because of what it said about Nerys, but because it gave an analysis of the distribution of postal votes between the parties in Carmarthen West & South Pembs. It is my understanding of electoral law that publication of such information is not allowed, and whilst I was not the author of the comment, I am the publisher of this blog. You are entitled to think that I made a wrong call on this, but the call was mine, and mine alone, and was made on the basis that I did not wish to put myself in breach of electoral law.

"As chair you didn't have an opinion"

I most certainly did...

"and people were expecting you to join in the discussions internally and to propose ideas."

...but perhaps I was in the wrong job to express them at all times. In smaller, less formal discussions, I most certainly did express opinions, and regularly provided written feedback on draft documents etc.; but it is difficult for the person regulating and controlling more formal discussion to be an active participant without being seen to be partial. Rightly or wrongly, my view of my role as Chair was to ensure that the party worked in accordance with its own processes and procedures, came to clear decisions, and then implemented them. The Chair's job is about process not content. Certainly, as I've said before, there were times when I found that limiting and frustrating.