Wednesday, 24 March 2010

The "Get Out Of Jail Free" card has expired.


Regular readers will know that following a post I wrote on whether Plaid Cymru will really have any additional influence in the event of a hung parliament, the Druid has been engaging in a bilingual discussion with BlogMenai (see here, here and BlogMenai's latest response here). Debate is healthy for a democracy - so here is the latest instalment:

Polling issues

It appears that BlogMenai has accepted that I did not cherry-pick polls to support my hypothesis as he originally claimed. Significantly he has also rowed back from his claim that certain polls show that Labour would be able to form a coalition government with just Plaid and the SNP without any need for the Lib Dems - this he now says is just "one possibility". True, anything is possible - but that does not mean that it is probable. And this was exactly the point I was making in my original post. Plaid's Ynys Môn candidate, Dylan Rees, wrote in a letter to the Daily Post that in the event of a hung parliament "Plaid Cymru will have an even more influential role to play" - in other words he presents it as a certainty, i.e. if there's a hung parliament Plaid will definitely be more influential and will definitely bring home the bacon, therefore vote for us. My post attempted to demonstrate that Rees's comments are deceptive because the probability of Plaid's support being essential to either a Conservative or Labour led coalition government are statistically remote. I don't want to repeat the whole thing here so please do read the original here, which I stand by.

The "Get Out Of Jail Free" card

BlogMenai goes on to say that I am wrong to suggest that Labour and Plaid Cymru have failed Anglesey despite them having been politically responsible for the Island for almost a quarter of a century. Don't those nasty Tories deserve a portion of the blame as they were in power from 1979-97 he asks?

This, as we know, is Labour and Plaid Cymru's all purpose "Get Out Of Jail Free" card as neither party are able to accept that Wales has any economic problems that weren't caused by the the last Tory government. Here's Labour's Albert Owen giving a demonstration par excellence on how to play the card on the Politics Show last month:

Politics Show Interviewer: I think everyone I've spoken to [in Anglesey] has said that jobs and regeneration are the two huge issues. We've had a Labour government for 13 years, is it your fault? Is it Tony Blair's fault that Anglesey is suffering?
Albert Owen: No, I came into politics in the 80s when it was a damn sight worse than it is now, we have to be honest about that. There was mass unemployment and mass depopulation in the 80s and 90s. Its certainly a lot better now.

See how it works? Playing the Get Out Of Jail Free card simultaneously allows the user to claim the moral high ground whilst at the same time abdicating himself of any responsibility whatsoever. Nuthin' to do with me, Guv - it was those nasty Tories.

Well, sorry, but after more than 13 years that particular "Get Out Of Jail Free" card has expired. In fact on Anglesey its arguable how relevant it ever was. The 80s and 90s were undoubtedly tough but almost all of Anglesey's main employers survived and have only begun closing over the past couple of years:

  • Anglesey Aluminium started smelting in 1971 and continued production all the way through the 80s and 90s, only closing with a loss of 400 jobs in September 2009
  • The Wylfa Nuclear Powerstation was also commissioned in 1971, carried on through the 80s and 90s and is now only months away from being decommissioned
  • The Octel chemical plant in Amlwch began production in 1953 and continued through the 80s and 90s (under various different names) until it closed in 2005
  • The Eaton Electric plant in Holyhead opened in 1960 under the name Midland Electric Manufacturing Company, it operated all through the 80s and 90s and only closed in December 2009 with a loss of 250 jobs
  • The Peboc Eastman chemical plant in Llangefni was established in 1970, continued production all through the 80s and 90s, and only closed its doors in 2008 with a loss of 100 jobs
  • Anglesey is an island of farmers, yet the economic contribution of agriculture in North Wales (including Anglesey) has declined by a staggering 67 per cent during the period 1997-2007, compared to an overall UK decline of just 7 per cent. You only need to compare a visit to the Morgan Evans livestock auctions in the 80s or 90s with one now to see how things have declined
  • This decimation of agriculture on Anglesey has directly affected the abattoir and meat-packaging plant in Gaerwen (now called Welsh Country Foods and part of the Vion Group) which began operating back in 1980s and continued throughout that decade and the 1990s; it has only begun downsizing this year with a loss of 200 jobs; the chicken processing plant in Llangefni, commonly known as 'Chuckies' and owned by the same company was established even earlier and also continued production throughout the 80s and 90s, until it lost a whole shift (140 jobs) last year 

Whereas in the 80s and 90s these companies or industries were able to retrench during the hard times and then take on more employees when the economy recovered - that isn't going to happen this time as they are gone and its unclear where any new jobs are going to come from when the economy eventually recovers. That must tell us something about the current business environment and the policies which have been implemented from Westminster and Cardiff for the past 13 years. Plus when you are officially the poorest place in the UK things by definition can't have been any worse - or at least have not improved. As much as Labour and Plaid want to wriggle out of accepting any responsibility for this - they cannot. 

Plaid's Ieuan Wyn Jones has been either MP or AM for Anglesey for 23 years (!) and yet amazingly BlogMenai actually portrays his lack of results as a virtue. He says I'm advocating the "pork barrel" politics characteristic of Ireland or the US whereby elected representatives compete to bring large-scale projects (the so called "pork") back to their constituencies. Therefore according to BlogMenai's warped logic we should actually be praising Ieuan's integrity for having brought nothing back to the Island he's represented for 23 years...

...The alternative reason could of course just be that Ieuan Wyn Jones is not up to the job.


Anonymous said...

Fully agree. Plaid and Labour failed our Island. It is not the first time that Blog Menai has backtracked, he is getting rather good at it by now. He did the same with Llais Gwynedd before if i recall. Face it Plaid Cymru, you are the weakest link - goodbye

menaiblog said...

I row back from nothing. A 36 (Con) 34 (Lab) 17 (lib dem) breakdown leaves Labour 9 short of an overall majority. YouGov came up with that breakdown earlier in the month.

I didn't say in the original post that you cherry picked, I said that you used a (deeply flawed) methodology for calculating likely seat distribution which came up with results which suited your narrative. Because of that you stuck to a demonstrably flawed approach.

You fail to refer to the core of my argument. I wasn't blaming the Tories as such for anything- the point was that economic under achievement along the peripheries of the UK is driven by the fact that our constitutional position stops us from applying appropriate taxation & monetary policies to deal with our problems.

Each West Wales constituency under performs, each Western (Scottish) Highland constituencyunder performs, each (Welsh) valleys constituency under performs, each Northern Ireland constituency bar North Down under performs, 80% of (Scottish) Central Belt constituencies under perform. You seem to believe that this is because they're unlucky enough to all end up with ineffective MPs.

I believe that it's because of structural economic problems that are never adequately addressed because of our constitutional position.

Which explanation do you reckon to be the more statistically likely - yours, which would require a long series of chance dud MPs representing the same type of constituency, or mine which provides a rational for the state of affairs & which doesn't require a fantastically improbable series of coincidences to occur?

The Druid of Anglesey said...

Blog Menai, thanks again for your reply.

1. Fine - as I said in my first reply if you're right and Labour is the largest party following the election and forms a coalition government with Plaid and SNP I'll eat my 'wisg las'. Unfortunately I'm afraid you're going to be disappointed.
2. Re cherry-picking: let me remind you of your own words; "Dydi polau'r mis hwn ddim yn cefnogi dadl y Derwydd, felly mae'n eu hanwybyddu." & "dydw i ddim yn gwneud defnydd dethol o ystadegau i geisio cynnal dadl na allwn ei chynnal ar ei phen ei hun".
3. If peripheral regions under perform due to their location then a competent government's job is to effectively bring those peripheral areas closer to the centre by improving transport infrastructure. The high-speed rail link announced these last few weeks is a good example - the WAG is complaining that there is no plan to bring it to Wales. A visionary WAG ready for autonomy and full-law making powers might instead propose to strategically pay for the Welsh segments of the rail link themselves. IWJ's beloved North-South airlink is not a bad idea - but in terms of bringing business to N.Wales it would make more sense for WAG to subsidise an Anglesey-London airlink rather than an Anglesey-Cardiff one. On a policy front why are Business Rates in Wales higher than anywhere else in the UK? These are basic functions - if the current WAG cannot do the basics what confidence can we have that they are ready for autonomy? (note I'm in favour of autonomy).
4. If we cannot judge MPs by what benefits they bring their constituency - how do you sugest we judge them?

Don't take all my comments as negative - you may be surprised how close we actually are on some points.

menaiblog said...

MPs aren't governors on an American model. They legislate on a 'national' basis. There is limited scope to use personal contacts & the like to attract investment, but using public office to attract business to one's own patch is little better than corruption.

I'm not really predicting anything other than that a hung Parliament is a distinct possibility - I don't think it's possible to foresee a precise distribution of seats in a FPTP system where there isn't (normally) a uniform swing. The YouGov poll is as likely to be correct as is your poll averaging.

The basic problem for peripheral areas is that it makes little business sense to locate manufacturing industry far away from population centres - it's an unnecessary addition to costs.

Independent countries compensate for this by offering inducements (low cooperation taxes in the case of Ireland for example). We're in no position to compensate because of our constitutional position.

The Druid of Anglesey said...


MPs (and AMs) are representatives of the people who elect them and in addition to legislating on a national basis should also be looking out for their own constituencies and lobbying ministers regarding policy which affects their region. I see no problem with MPs using their position to persuade businesses to set up in their own patch as long as the MP doesn't personally gain financially (in fact I would say that is part of the job description). You didn't answer my question regarding how we should judge MPs and AMs if not on how well they serve their constituency.

I agree with your point that it makes little business sense to locate manufacturing industry too far away from population centres - thats why I wrote above that the government's response must be therefore to improve the transport infrastructure so as to effectively make the country 'smaller'.

Your point about offering tax inducements is absolutely correct and I too wish Wales had the powers to, for example, reduce corporation tax rates for companies here - but lets start with what we can already control: business rates. This is perfectly within the WAG's current responsibilities - so why are business rates in Wales higher than any other part of the UK? Not only are we far away from population centres, business have to pay more rates to be here too - a double whammy. Ieuan Wyn Jones is minister for the economy and transport - both items we are discussing as critical here - yet policy on both is wanting. I could say not only is IWJ failing Anglesey he is also failing nationally.

menaiblog said...

MPs responsibilities are very well defined by the House of Commons itself - I quote:

MPs have responsibilities to three main groups: their constituents, Parliament and their political party.

One MP is elected to the House of Commons by each of the UK’s 600+ constituencies. MPs’ duties in Parliament include participating in debates and voting on legislation and other matters. They may also be members of committees examining new laws or the work of government departments. Some have a role as a minister in government or a spokesperson in opposition.

MPs can help their constituents by advising on problems (particularly those that arise from the work of government departments), representing the concerns of their constituents in Parliament and acting as a figurehead for the local area.

MPs usually support their party by voting with its leadership in the House of Commons and acting as a representative for the party in their constituency.

Clearly they should be judged according to how they deploy the said responsibilities. It seems fairly obvious.

Reduced business rates was in the Plaid manifesto for the 2007 Assembly, but it failed to get into the One Wales Agreement. That's a matter of regret. I hope it gets into the next agreement after the 2011 elections.

Anonymous said...

The greatest heartache is reading about Plaid Cymru and Labour moaning about their own weaknesses and misgivings, the truth is staring them in front of their eyes..we don't want to be treated like fools..the whole idea of using incentives to gain some political point over the rival party, when the reality is we don't believe a word any of them says..the old tale how can you tell when a politican is lying,his lips are moving are so true.

What is the point of having two parties who at the end of the day cannot run a bath never mind a Government. These clowns have ruined us all, the economy has been pillaged, the future looks bleak, and we are all desperate to be led out of this desperate widerness and have at least something to look forward to.

Our Country, and our Island needs guidance, strength and at least vision, Ieuan Joskin Jones and Alberto remind me of Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder, I don't know about their singing abilities but they ar certainly blind, to the reality of life on this Island.

These two clowns certainly do not enjoy following orders and being told what to do, but the mess they have made by their own doing is horrific.
The responsibility of the state of this Island rests squarely on the shoulders of these indifferent political light weights, as long as we tolerate them, we have no hope.

We blame Labour and Plaid Cymru, these fools who live in a dream, filling the heads of emty headed fools about the way forward, when they have sent us all backward, with no future, our heritage has been ravaged, our future in a financial nighmare, they are all fools, let's all hope that these fools never ever get their way again. These are the politicans who have ruined us all, never forget, never vote for them.