Monday 29 April 2013

Electoral longevity

In his speech to the Conservatives’ Welsh conference, the party leader Andrew RT Davies criticised the longevity in office of Labour ministers in the assembly.  He went so far as to compare them with ministers in the Eastern bloc during the Soviet period.
It earned him a headline or two, and I’m sure it went down well with the party faithful.  I’m not sure that it has much validity however.  If ministers are good at their job and if the people continue to elect them, what’s wrong with them remaining in office for a lengthy period?  Indeed, it has often seemed to me that the UK habit of reshuffling ministers every year or two is a convenient way of ensuring that real power remains in the hands of the Prime Minister (or First Minister in Wales) and the civil service, and that real change is obstructed.  Ministers are moved on before they get too knowledgeable about their brief.
It’s also true of course that with a limited number of members in the assembly, the extent to which the First Minister has a choice when it comes to appointing ministers is itself limited.  With a bare majority of half of the 60 members, the First Minister has 30 members from whom to choose.  It’s an entirely different situation from that in the House of Commons, where the prime minister typically will have 300 people from amongst whom to choose his or her ministers.  One way of overcoming that part of the problem would be to increase the number of members in the assembly – but that does not seem to be on the agenda for Mr Davies or his party.
The more significant question than the length of time for which they have been in office is the question of the competence of those ministers.  If they’re good at their job then leaving them in place is not a terribly bad idea; better than handing the jobs over to someone who might not be as good, just because they’ve been in post for a particular length of time.  And if they’re bad at their job then they shouldn’t be there in the first place; longevity does not enter the equation.  But competence is a question on which we will all have our own opinion.
It’s true, of course, that Labour has been in power continuously since the assembly was elected.  It’s equally true as a result of that that the Labour Party – including those long-serving Ministers - must take the predominant share of the blame for any failings over that period.
However we cannot escape the truth that the people of Wales actually elected the Labour Party to that position.  Andrew Davies may wish that were not true – I might wish it were not true – but it’s an inescapable fact.  In that sense any comparison with Eastern Europe is completely invalid.  Longevity in office is simply the result of the people’s verdict, whether we like it or not.


maen_tramgwydd said...

Rather stating the obvious here, John.

Efrogwr said...

"However we cannot escape the truth that the people of Wales actually elected the Labour Party to that position." Yes we can! Biggest party, yes, but it's the electoral system that exaggerates Labour dominance.

Anonymous said...

As a nationalist & Plaid member I agree with John. Alot of Plaid people talk about a 'one party state' too, though not our politicians. The thing is, it's a four party state, it's just that Labour is more popular than us. I do agree the system exaggerates and ensures their dominance (and some of them want it made even less proportional!) though.

Calling them Soviets and communists is a waste of time. We have to make the people of Wales trust us more and prove to them that we would deliver on the issues they care about. I'm certainly doing my bit locally to raise money so we can campaign more often and more visibly.