Thursday, 5 May 2011

The battle of trivia

When the election campaign for the National Assembly started, all the parties told us that, in the new context of an Assembly with law-making powers, we could, and should, expect those who would wish to govern us to be setting out some exciting ideas for the new Wales.  Reality has been disappointing – it’s been less a battle of ideas than a battle of trivia.
From the plain silly idea that a party is planning to do anything that its manifesto doesn’t explicitly rule out, to trawling electronic media in the hope that a candidate for another party might possibly have said something ten years ago that (s)he’d regret saying today, attention has focussed on anything and everything apart from serious hard policy, where there is so little to distinguish the main parties from each other.
And, as the circus wends its weary way to an end of sorts, there is something vaguely reminiscent of trench warfare, with the probability that the parties have fought each other to something pretty close to a standstill, with little movement since day 1.  There has been nothing, as Daran Hill put it, which in any way resembles a game-changer.
There can be little argument with the proposition that this has largely been a Westminster election by proxy.  That’s naturally disappointing for those of us who have long yearned for a more distinctly Welsh style of politics, fought largely around Welsh issues, but yearning for something is not enough to bring it about. 
Partly, it may be a result of the still-limited powers of the Assembly, and the unfamiliarity of all Assembly politicians with actually making laws; but I suspect that the more important factor is the continued dominance of the Labour Party in much of Wales, and the still-strong suspicion, or even hatred, of the Tories in some of the demographics of Welsh society on which Labour are able to play so well.  As long as the only conceivable alternative to Labour is a mish-mash in which all of the other parties have to come together, what Labour say and do will continue to dominate campaign themes in Assembly elections.
There will be plenty of people, mostly Labour supporters unsurprisingly, who will be quite happy with that, and see no reason to change it.  No surprise, I’m sure, if I take the opposite view.  The question is how to change it.
One factor might be the detoxification of the Tory brand in Wales.  I’ve long believed that to have been one of the objectives of some supporters of the ill-fated Rainbow, but apart from wondering why a nationalist party would seek to detoxify the most unionist party of them all, I remain worried that this particular ‘cure’ might turn out to be worse than the illness.
Another factor has to be the inadequacy of the Welsh media.  Even a small nation like Wales can surely support a more vibrant and pluralistic media than we have.  And the media have, it seems to me, been far too tame on occasions – politicians have been allowed to get away with making statements which deserve much stronger challenge than they get.  I don’t necessarily want all Welsh interviewers to try and emulate Paxman, but the relationship often seems far too cosy.
And we need at least one party to break away from the consensus and present us with a real alternative, so that we can debate what Wales can be rather than merely who should run the country.


Anonymous said...

Interesting blog.
I tottally agree with you on the Welsh Media issue. I think the two flaws of the current devolved model in Wales is a) lack of AM's [and ones of a 'standard' and crucially b) the weak media. WAG's have put money into the Welsh media. I think the Assembly Commission should step up to the plate using some form of remit to get the English media interested. Maybe stating X% of any newspaper must be on a devolved issue; or when discussing items in papers they must have a notice on the page saying 'this does not concern Wales'. Or even do a bold decision and give grants to papers like The Sun or The Daily Mail to have a Welsh version (similar to Scotland). It is definitely a major flaw. And in my view I think areas that are devolved should NEVER be discussed on BBC UK News. As I've seen endless stories on NHS reorganisation- but when Wales merged the LHB's I don't think I saw the main UK news covering it (which is what most, like me watch). I really fear that Welsh democracy is weak because of this- and really it suits the party as they get next to no scrutiny.

This then allows 'weak AM's' to become members as there is no scrutiny and they get away with anything.

You say that media has made this a 'London based Assembly Election'. And I'd agree. BUT what I would also say is that ALL parties (including Plaid) are weak compared to their Scottish counterparts. I mean I couldn't see the Scottish Secretary launching the Scottish Election campaign- which is what arose in Wales. This is a key flaw, and boils down to again members. But is this linked to lack of powers? so people aren't attracted? maybe.

Finally you call the Tories the most unionist party. As a party I'd agree with you. BUT as a group I feel they are more pro-devolution then the Assembly groups e.g people like Melding, Bourne and Paul Davies.

It'll be an interesting results night. I can't see what Labour can offer Plaid in terms of more powers (if thats Plaids aim), so perhaps for advancing devolution a rainbow is the only route to our 'pot of gold'. Otherwise I fear we'll have five years of fighting, and five years of campaigning to the next London Elections.

Peter D Cox said...

At 6.49 am as the results stagger in I read this "And we need at least one party to break away from the consensus and present us with a real alternative, so that we can debate what Wales can be rather than merely who should run the country."

Plaid have failed Wales.

Anonymous said...

I wont believe Plaid is now dead until I see a picture of IWJ in his cave, plus DNA and a current utility bill.

As we believers know, The Medya fake these things.