Wednesday 18 July 2012

Much ado about very little

Later today, our legislature in Cardiff will be debating a motion of no confidence in the Health Minister.  Given the respective size of the party groups, it’s likely to be a close vote, but unless there is an element of “differential absenteeism”, it’s a motion which will not be passed.
There’ll be quite a lot of huffing and puffing as the various opposition AMs rise to their hind legs to express their outrage.  It’s at least possible that there will be an occasional instance of genuine outrage, but most of it will be manufactured especially for the occasion – or rather in the hope of getting a brief clip into the BBC report on the debate.
Ultimately, the vote is about one of those monumental irrelevances of which politicians of all shades seem so fond, but which are a real turn off for the rest of us.  Because they’re not debating the threat – whether real or imagined – to local hospitals, nor even the principle as to whether service configurations (the posh euphemism for changes to what hospitals do) need to be made.
No, they’re debating whether or not the government might have done what all known governments in all known countries have done on a regular basis – try to influence the conclusions of an external report to justify their own actions.  And the evidence that the Minister herself was involved, even if such an attempt was made, is rather less than flimsy.  It's a 'bubble' debate of classic proportions.
It’s just as well, of course, that they’re not actually debating the substance of any proposed or mooted changes to the health service in Wales, because the only thing that unites the opposition parties when it comes to the substance is opposition to what Labour propose - whatever Labour might propose.  (And, in the interests of fairness, I think we can say that were there to be a non-Labour Government proposing the same, or indeed any, changes, then Labour would be equally opposed).
Whilst the three opposition parties are all against Plan A, the chances of them ever agreeing on a Plan B are slim, to say the least.  (And that doesn’t only apply in the field of health care.)
In that context, one has to wonder about some of the calls recently for the three opposition parties to work more closely together in the Assembly.  To what end?  It might make for more exciting television news bulletins, and give print reporters something to write about as they try to hype up the drama around the at-best theoretical possibility of a government defeat, but what would it actually achieve?
The only obvious outcome that I can see is to confirm Labour’s narrative that everyone is either with them or with the Tories.  That certainly helps Labour electorally; and it may even help the Tories by painting them very clearly as the main opposition.  But it doesn’t obviously help either Plaid or the Lib Dems - let alone the electorate.  And it tells us little or nothing about any alternative proposals.
The hope of many of those of us who spent so much time and effort arguing for a new democracy in Wales was to build a different type of institution, not merely to ape the confrontational style of Westminster.  It seems, however, as though many of our AMs, aided and abetted by the media, who are pursuing their own need for something less anodyne to report, are intent on creating a Westminster writ small.  But even Westminster could find a better subject for a motion of no confidence than this one.


Anonymous said...

The question for me is how credible is the reports author
if we are pinning reform on what he says he is the one who should be in the spotlight
The minister is an irrelevance.

Anonymous said...

I agree that it would be better to dicuss the principles of the report, however I am disapointed that you are so dismissive of this No Confidence Vote.

What other form of censure have they got? How else can they hold the Government to account and ensure that they cannot continue to mislead the electorate?

If the opposition parties were not to go ahead with the vote of no confidence, then the minister would justify centralisation by claiminig that it was an independent report.

They can't be allowed to mislead (lie) like this and think that they can get away with it.

Anonymous said...

"what all known governments in all known countries have done on a regular basis – try to influence the conclusions of an external report to justify their own actions"

I don't agree with at comment, John. When Elin Jones commissioned scientific reports on the badger cull issue, she did not seek to influence the 'reports', despite various protagonists having pre-disposed views. Scientists were not cajoled or manipulated and the resulting recommendations did not necessarily conclude what was most convenient for the politicians. In fact, the opposite was the case. Such was the lack of political meddling, the scientific reports were self standing and independent, and seen to be so. It took over a year of procrastination for the new administration to find a way to 'reverse the science', with dose of fudge.

John Dixon said...

Anon 1,

I'll come back to the question of 'holding the government to account' and what alternatives there are in a fresh post; it deserves a fuller response than a quick comment here.

On the question of whether the report is or is not 'independent', which was the casus belli for the no confidence motion, I'm simply not convinced that the smoking e-mails proved anything at all.

Anon 2,

I said that all governments do it, I didn't say that all governments do it all the time, only regularly. Identifying a single instance of one government not doing it doesn't disprove the general.