Wednesday 27 November 2013

Nods, winks, and peers of the realm

I find it hard to believe that Elfyn Llwyd’s call last week for Plaid to have more peers was preceded by a great deal of consultation with his party’s leader, Leanne Wood.  Given her long-standing opposition to the nomination of peers, Elfyn’s call looks a little incongruous to say the least.  Still, not even Elfyn’s best friends or biggest fans would say that always being “on message” was one of his fortes. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing depends on your perspective, I suppose.  For party managers, being “off message” is always likely to be a problem, but for most others it probably depends on whether you agree with what he’s saying or not.
Personally, I agree with Elfyn and think Leanne is wrong on this one.  A party like Plaid has to choose between engaging with the institutions of the state and keeping them at arm’s length.  There are sound arguments for abstentionism, which was long a popular position amongst Irish nationalists.  However, there is little history of abstentionism in Wales, and it seems to me that if you’re going to engage with some institutions of the state you may as well engage with all of them and exercise as much influence as you possibly can.
On the substance of the critique of the existence and nature of the House of Lords itself  however, it would be hard to find any difference between Leanne and myself.  The fear is that appointing members serves to legitimise the institution, but a party which claims only to enter the House of Commons in order to secure Wales’ withdrawal from it can surely apply exactly the same argument to any other institution.  
Whatever, the real question which I wish to address here is the mysterious way in which the institutions of the British establishment work when it comes to the appointment of peers of the realm.
When Plaid chose three nominees for peerages (Dafydd Wigley, Eurfyl ap Gwilym, and Janet Davies), their details were passed through the murky “usual channels” to number 10 - and the then prime minister studiously ignored them.  That was, for a while, the end of the story.  I – and I think many others – believed that we had made our nominations, and that Brown was simply blocking them.
It turned out that we hadn’t actually “nominated” anyone at all; the PM was not ignoring our nominations because there were no nominations to ignore.  This only became clear after the election of Cameron as Prime Minister. 
Shortly after Cameron came to power, Ieuan Wyn Jones had an opportunity to lobby him for the appointment of Dafydd Wigley to the House of Lords.  (Although of course Dafydd had by then withdrawn his name, and was no longer one of Plaid’s nominees – but that’s another story).  Nods were nodded, winks were winked, it was made clear that the party would be allowed to submit one nomination, and in June 2010 I found myself presented with a nomination paper to complete and sign (political nominations have to be completed by party chairs - a revelation to me).
I really hadn’t realised that there was a formal channel available for submitting nominations to an allegedly independent panel.  Perhaps I should have known that – it would be a fair criticism of me that I hadn’t even made the effort to identify whether there was a formal process – but I’ll admit that I didn’t.
Anyway, after a brief hiatus while the NEC agreed to reinstate Dafydd Wigley as a party nominee - a precondition to my signing any nomination - the form was duly completed and submitted and, hey presto, three months later Dafydd’s peerage was duly confirmed after the said “independent panel” had given it their careful consideration.  In essence, despite the lengthy period which appeared to be passing from a public perspective, the actual period between formal nomination and appointment was a very short one.
It neatly illustrates the difference between the written-down formal process - which is the submission of a form, consideration by an independent panel, and appointment or rejection; and the actual process – which depends on a series of nods and winks from the right people before you even get to the starting block. 
Perhaps we should have challenged that more strongly at the time.  With the benefit of hindsight – and hindsight is always a wonderful thing – I think we should have accepted the nod and the wink, but pushed the boundaries by making three nominations at that point rather than just the one.  That would really have forced the establishment to either accept or else formally reject our nominations, rather than two of them remaining in a strange and continuing sort of limbo.
However we did not do that, and unless the other two nominations have been formally submitted since I stood down as Plaid’s chair in July 2010 (completing Wigley’s nomination was one of my final acts), I suspect that the party has only ever nominated one candidate.  So whilst I agree with the substance of what Elfyn says, in that Plaid should be more strongly represented in the second chamber, I’m not convinced that Plaid itself could not do more to achieve that if it really wanted to.  But that probably takes us right back to the question of whether Elfyn was speaking for his leader or not…

1 comment:

Spirit of BME said...

I voted against Plaid`s entrance into this body, as all right (no pun intended) minded people recognise it as a nonsense.
However your post is about-
“It seems to me that if you’re going to engage with some institutions of the state you may as well engage with all of them and exercise as much influence as you possibly can.”
Firstly, I do not see them as institutions but as the enemy that actively denies our right to freedom and dignity, therefore there are some questions to ask; what track record does this body have to deliver what we want – where the Irish Peers a hot bed for an independent Ireland!!, does such a body subscribe to our values and political principles- I think not, as all those countries that obtained their freedom from England gave this one a miss, it’s clearly a waste of time.
Your post sheds some interesting light on the past (there must be a book in there) so two questions.
Did Elfyn declare an interest in his call?
Who signed the nomination papers for the first Plaid member that became a member, when it was against party policy?
Lastly, if you are to nominate what test do you apply ,in the case of M.P`s and A.M`s, it simple cannot be “bench time” ,perhaps it could be – Through their contribution do they leave the party in a stronger and more successful state that when they entered elected office. I think all those in Blaid who are in elected office should get use to their current titles as they are going to live with them for ever.