Wednesday 23 December 2009

Basis of Selection

The idea of holding debates between the leaders of the parties at election times has been mooted for many years; I can't say that I'm surprised that it's finally going to happen. That doesn't mean that I'm exactly happy about it either.

It works well in the US because the people are actually electing a president when they vote; in the UK, we are not. We are electing a legislature from which a government is subsequently chosen, and the number of people who can actually vote directly for any of the leaders is very limited.

I'm quite open to the idea of holding separate elections for the government and the legislature. There are a whole series of details which would need to be resolved (not the least of which is that it would make changing a prime minister without a new election rather more difficult), but the idea has a number of advantages. However, simply grafting on a presidential style debate to a legislature based election brings a series of problems of its own.

Clearly, the choice of UK prime minister at the next election boils down to only two people, and if we were able to vote directly for a prime minister, I could see that benefit of having a debate between those two. But what is Clegg doing there? He has, to be blunt, no more chance of being the next UK Prime Minister than does Elfyn Llwyd, Plaid's parliamentary leader. I know it, the broadcasters know it - and even Clegg knows it.

It might be argued that the Lib Dems are fighting enough seats to be able, theoretically, to form a government if they won enough. But what if the Greens, or the BNP or UKIP then field enough candidates - do they get to be included?

It might also be argued that, in the event of a hung parliament, the third party would have a degree of influence beyond their numbers, so that people should know where they stand. But there's no reason to assume that the Lib Dems will be the third largest group. It's perfectly plausible that a 20-strong Plaid/SNP group would have just as much influence; everything depends on the final numbers of MPs.

In short, I can see no rational justification to include Clegg which could not also be used to justify the inclusion of a number of other possible leaders. And conversely, the basis on which others have been excluded could also be used to exclude Clegg.

The whole thing is a stitch-up by the broadcasters and the establishment parties. Nothing new there, then.


Unknown said...

The election for the Westminster Parliament are becoming more and more irrelevant to Scotland and Wales as we move closer towards independence.

This is not mere optimism.
There is a palpable shift from establishment to disestablishment in Britain - the only uncertainty is the time it will take to achieve the predicted result.

Spirit of BME said...

I am with you 100% on para 2. The US elects a Head of State (HOS)and we are not allowed here to do that.Projecting the leaders of parties as potential HOS is misleading the public, I accept that the current HOS has been AWOL since the Suez Crisis in 1956, but selling them as an alternative gives them too much power. Example , Blair decided the the 2nd Chamber should not be further changed after his first reform - why should he decide that ,what was the view of the Labour party??

Robert said...

We are miles away from Independence in Wales, we might have more powers but as for Independence you will have to prove to me Independence in Wales would mean I have a better standard of life, and how the hell we are going to replace the 15 billion we get from the the UK.

As for this bunch meeting I suspect Brown will be doing a bush and having an ear piece which will have Campbell on the other end, we have brown asking what did you say I cannot hear you.

We have Clegg forgetting he is Lib Dem's and telling people whom ever comes top we will back , we do not care about policies.

And the Tories will tell us how hard it's going to be for the poor.

On the whole I have retired from voting.

John Dixon said...


I don't know where you get the figure of £15 billion. It's not a figure I recognise; nor would I accept the phrasing that we receive money "from the UK". To deal with the second of those points first, taxes are collected within the UK and are then spent within the UK; they are spent differentially in different nations and regions of the UK, based on a range of factors, of which 'need' is not necessarily the most prominent. But it certainly isn't a question of the UK 'giving' money to Wales.

The best researched figure that I've seen for the gap between money raised by taxation in Wales, and money spent for, or on behalf of, Wales is that produced by Oxford Economics. Their figure showed a deficit of around £9 billion. But that figure wasn't intended to reflect the position at Independence; it was a figure reflecting the pattern of income and expenditure within the current constitutional settlement, and on the basis of broadly similar expenditure patterns going forward.

Depending on what assumptions one makes about how central UK expenditure might be split (and that includes things such as defence expenditure, share of the national debt and so on), I think a better estimate of the current annual gap between expenditure and income in Wales is around £6 billion. Put that into the context that the UK also has a current account deficit which will be around £170 billion for the current year.

Many countries can and do run deficit budgets at different times; the fact that the Welsh budget has a deficit does not make Wales unviable, any more than the UK deficit makes the UK unviable (or the US deficit makes the US unviable). The questions we need to answer are what is the nature of the deficit, how deep-seated is it, and how long term is it - and what can be done about those issues.

The fundamental underlying reason for the Welsh budget deficit is that Welsh GVA per head lags so far behind the UK average, and that is the issue which we need to resolve.

And that, in a sense, is where we move from economics to politics. Those who think that Wales should not be independent, on purely economic grounds, seem to be arguing one of two things:

Either that Wales will always have a low level of GVA, that there's little that can be done about it, so we need to be part of a larger, more successful, economic unit which can provide long term subsidy to us;

Or that the best way to improve the average GVA per head in Wales is within a UK context.

I cannot accept the first of those arguments - I see no necessary reason why Wales should for ever be in a state of lower economic performance than the average for the UK as a whole. And the second argument seems to me to fly in the face of empirical experience over many years.

I am not suggesting for one moment that Independence would be some sort of magic bullet which would immediately resolve the problem; but I do believe that the best way of resolving a problem is to take responsibility for it ourselves.

Robert said...

Next year the Welsh budget will rise to almost £15.5 billion.

This is from the Welsh assembly budget agreement.

Now tell me with all your nice words how do 3.5 welsh people get that if we walk away into independance, and please do not tell me like Ireland the EU will give it to us thats dream has gone.

John Dixon said...


I think you're confusing two different sets of numbers here. The UK Exchequer does indeed pass around £15.5 billion to the Assembly, and, of course, if Wales were to be independent, the UK Exchequer would cease to make such contributions. On the other hand, the UK Exchequer collects around £19.3 billion in taxes from Wales every year, and that would also cease if Wales were to be independent. So at a simplistic level, the answer to your question as posed is "out of taxes paid by people living in Wales".

It is, however, an incomplete answer, and therefore an incorrect one, since it is based on the wrong set of figures. And I think it's therefore the wrong question.

Over and above the money passed to the National Assembly, there is expenditure in Wales by the UK Government on non-devolved matters; there is also expenditure at a UK level on UK matters which some might argue benefit Wales. So any calculation of the annual surplus or deficit facing Wales needs to take all of those items into account as well.

Oxford Economics, as I suggested previously, arrive at an annual deficit of £9 billion. Because I think that an independent Wales would take some different decisions on spending priorities, I think that £6 billion is nearer the mark, but I'd accept that, based on what we know today, a figure of between £6 and £9 billion is a reasonable starting point for debate.

A better question for you to ask me is, "how would Wales finance its current account deficit, probably running at around £6 to £9 billion per year?"

The answer, of course, is "in the same way as the UK finances its current account deficit, currently running at around £178 billion per year".

Almsot all governments run deficits in some years (possibly excepting oil states), and there's nothing at all wrong or unusual about that. And governments fund those deficits by borrowing in the short term and by increasing their tax income or cutting their expenditure in the long term. An independent Wales would be no different from the UK in that respect.

Where Wales does have a bigger problem however is that the tax income per head on a given rate of taxation is lower in Wales than the average for the UK - because GVA per head in Wales is lower. That is the underlying issue which we need to tackle. And, actually, we need to tackle it whether Wales is independent or not.

So I think the right question to ask is "how are you going to increase GVA per head in Wales so that it at least matches the UK average, which means that services provided in Wales for Wales are paid for by people in Wales?". That question does not solely relate to the question of independence - and it's a question which all parties in Wales need to be answering.