Thursday 18 March 2010

All parties agree - or do they?

End of term spirits are obviously high at Westminster these days. Ministers are putting even more effort than usual into scoring points rather than answering questions. Mind you, some of the questions are just mischief making in the first place.

Take Cheryl Gillan's question to Peter Hain about the date of the referendum. Does anyone really believe that she's so anxious to get on with it that she wants Hain to make the decisions now? Of course not – she'd just prefer that the decision was taken by him so that it doesn't end up in her in-tray if she should find herself inheriting his desk. Much easier to blame the other lot when her own, strongly anti-devolution, back benchers start acting up.

On the other hand, there was never any danger that Hain would actually take the decision before the election. If Labour lose the election, he can then blame the other lot for whatever happens thereafter; and if they win, then there'll almost certainly be a different Secretary of State. Either way, he can, just by sitting on the issue for a few weeks more, avoid facilitating a referendum which he's on record as saying won't happen for a few years.

However, part of his answer went a bit further, because he said "This is a matter for consideration after the general election, all parties agree on that." This sounds like another of Hain's "I said it so it must be so" statements to me. I think that most us knew from the outset that it was a decision which was never going to be taken before the election; but that isn't at all the same thing as agreeing that it couldn't or shouldn't be. Recognising that the intransigence of one member of one party makes something impossible isn't the same as agreeing with him.

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