Tuesday 19 January 2010

The language of priorities

Much of the political reaction to the pensions proposals put forward by Plaid yesterday was, sadly, entirely predictable.

I suppose that I shouldn't blame opponents for drawing attention to the fact that, even if Plaid win all 40 of the seats we will be contesting, then we still won't be able to implement the policy, because the result of the general election will be decided in England not in Wales. But then none of the policy proposals which we put forward for a Westminster election are ones which we will be able to implement unless and until we firstly have the relevant powers devolved to the Assembly, and secondly win a majority in order to implement them.

There are two very good reasons, however, why it is entirely right for Plaid to be putting forward proposals on non-devolved issues. The first is that our MPs, after they have been elected, will be voting on those issues, and the people whose votes we are seeking should know exactly where their candidates stand.

The second is that it is a way in which we show that our priorities are different from those of other parties. And it is on this point that the reaction of other parties, although predictable, was still disappointing. By attacking the fact that we cannot win a majority in Westminster, and by claiming that the policy is unaffordable, they avoid debate on the substantive issue itself.

Of course affordability is an issue. If you believe that we should renew Trident, if you believe that we should give more tax breaks to the wealthy, if you believe that we should spend money on ID cards and illegal wars, then naturally decent pensions are unaffordable. That is precisely where the part about a choice of priorities comes in. Our priorities are different.

By simply dismissing the policy out of hand, what our political opponents are doing is avoiding a serious discussion about pensioner poverty and what should be done about it. We've attempted to set out what we will do – let's hear some alternative proposals. Maybe there's a better way of addressing the issue; maybe not (although Help the Aged said very clearly that increasing the level of pension to the level set for pension credits, as we propose, would have a greater impact than alternative reforms).

As it is, our opponents seem to be effectively telling our pensioners that they are simply not high enough up the list of priorities.


Jeff Jones said...

Of course any party contesting the UK election has the right to put forward policies on issues controlled by the UK Parliament. With the pension pledge you were really asking for a kicking.Paying for it by just arguing that Trident or ID cards should be scrapped is just too simplistic in the world that will be faced by whoever runs the UK Parliament after next May. Unfortunately it came across as a sound bite more than a policy that had any chance of being implemented . Given that you are now in power in Cardiff most people would be far more interested in what your priorities will be now that the age of plenty for the Assembly is coming to an end. What would Plaid do with an Assembly budget which if the IFS is right could go back to 1997 in real terms? Promising to raise pensions is easy but in many ways lazy politics and no one in Plaid should therefore be surprised by the reaction of either the other political parties or more importantly perhaps the electorate. I also can't understand why you think that somehow electors in the 20th century will be attracted to the idea that Plaid are the heirs to Keir Hardie and S.O. Davies. Most voters would have difficulty naming their local assembly member let alone have some knowledge of left wing politicians from the past. Although Mountain Ash was part of Keir Hardie's Merthyr constituency it is often forgotten that Merthyr was a two member constituency. Hardie only won one of the seats in 1900 because the coalowner and Liberal MP D.M THomas(Lord Rhondda) who topped the poll hated his fellow Liberal Pritchard Morgan and encouraged voters to use their second vote for Hardie. Hardie never topped the poll and the Liberals were confident of winning the second seat if an election had been held in 1915. Hardie of course died a broken man after voters rejected his plea for the UK to stay out of the First World War. He would probably have been hammered by a pro war candidate in the 1918 election if he had lived.

John Dixon said...


Rightly or wrongly (and I think rightly, probably to no-one's great surprise), our manifesto for the Westminster elections will concentrate on issues decided at Westminster rather than at the Assembly. And the reverse is likely to be the case for 2011, so forgive me if I put that part of your comment to one side, for the moment at least.

There is rather more substance to the pensions policy than you suggest; I was trying to summarise it in terms of highlighting differences in priorities, and I selected some of the obvious ones.

However, to add just a little more by way of justification:

The IFS have estimated that the cost per year of a universal state pension at the level of the Pension Credit Guarantee would be £20bn.

It is estimated that around £5.4bn per annum of benefits available to older people goes unclaimed, leaving a gap of around £15bn.

We have said that we think the policy should be phased in, starting with the over 80 year olds. Targeting just that group for the initial implementation carries a cost of around £2.8bn per year - and that's the group most in need of extra help.

Still think it looks so unaffordable? It is ultimately, as I said, a question of priorities. And the one thing that you haven't said in your response is whether you think it's something which should be done or not. Whether you agree with our figures or not, don't you think it's the sort of thing which we should be trying to do - and trying to afford?

Ap William said...

I seem to recall that it was Aneurin Bevan who stated that “The language of priorities is the religion of socialism”; possibly making contemporary references to disposal of nuclear weapons more relevant under the circumstances.

It makes a pleasant change to hear that Plaid have a parliamentary agenda that goes beyond attempted impeachments of prime ministers and associated legal advice at public expense.

One assumes that that by setting out their stall, the Party of Wales are signalling what they would be seeking in return for supporting a minority administration in the Commons. Or am I reading too much into things?

Anonymous said...

Plaid won't win at Westminster and can't form a government.

Yet, in 2010 Labour won't win either.

In many respects voting a Welsh Labour MP will be as much a 'wasted' vote as a vote for a Plaid one ... more so I'd say.

John Dixon said...

Ap William,

Not sure why your comment didn't get to me sooner than this - a glitch somewhere rather than censorship on my part.

Of course, if there were to be a hung parliament, the manifesto which we put forward will be the basis on which any discussions with other parties are held.