Cheryl Gillan misses a trick

Gareth Hughes says the Secretary of State should have consulted about increasing the number of our AMs as well as how we elect them

So Cheryl Gillan is proposing to change the electoral system for future Assembly elections. Her suggestions are that there should be 30 constituency seats and 30 elected in the regions. At the moment there are 40 constituency and 20 regional Assembly Members.

What Mrs Gillan wants is Assembly constituencies to mirror those of Westminster. Her view is that the poor voter could not cope with living in different constituencies to vote for the two different democratic bodies. In order to stem the criticism that Westminster is changing a system that affects the Welsh Assembly they have made the proposals in the form of a Green Paper. Thus allowing all those confused voters to write in with their views. As if.

And whose decision will it be in the end? Well, it will be Mrs Gillan’s, of course. Not only is she asking about the constituencies but she’s also posing other questions.

Do you want the length of an Assembly term to be extended permanently to five years? It has been extended to five years next time round to prevent the election falling on the same day as the general election, then it will revert back to the original four year cycle.

Another vexed issue to be consulted on is should all candidates be allowed to stand both in constituencies and on regional lists. Vexed because it agitates politicians. Most others just shrug their shoulders and say so what.

If you’re a political anorak you’ll remember that at first, Assembly candidates could put their names forward for both a constituency and a region. If they were elected for a constituency they would come off the regional list.

Labour were very unhappy with this because they were winning constituencies and often a political opponent would be elected on the regional vote and open an office in the same constituency and use it as a base to win support. When he was Secretary of State Peter Hain axed the system.  At the time the Conservatives said that they would reintroduce it when back in power. So now it’s in the Green Paper.

Finally, it will consider whether AMs should be barred from also sitting as MPs and members of the House of the Lords. At present, this would only affect one AM – former Presiding Officer Lord Elis-Thomas. The change would act as a real disincentive for Westminster politicians deciding on a career in Wales if the effect of them seeking a seat in the Assembly was a Westminster by-election.

When Rhodri Morgan, Ron Davies, Ieuan Wyn Jones and Dafydd Wigley decided to become Assembly Members, they held on to their Westminster seats until the next general election. Then stood down. Under this proposal they would all have had to stand down, as did Cynog Dafis, resign their seats and cause an immediate by-election.

Party whips would be most unhappy if this were to happen. You can imagine the arm-twisting to prevent MPs making the move.

The Green Paper misses a trick in not addressing the issue recently raised by Rosemary Butler, Presiding Officer of the Assembly about increasing the size of the Assembly to that of eighty members. A number suggested not only by her but also by Lord Richard in his forensic analysis on the needs of the Assembly. According to him 80 is the number required of Assembly Members to do the job “properly”. Passing laws, committees that really scrutinise and hold real inquiries and sufficient backbenchers to hold the government properly to account. But that’s by the bye.

Perhaps, a more fundamental question needs addressing. Should it be Westminster’s business at all? Yes, they have the legal powers but should they not pass these to the Assembly?

Surely how the people of Wales elect their own Assembly should be decided in Wales. Westminster politicians should keep their collective noses out. After all two referendums have shown that the people of Wales more and more want decisions relating to Wales to be made in Wales.

Gareth Hughes is a political commentator who blogs here.

One thought on “Cheryl Gillan misses a trick

  1. Since the Welsh Assembly is now the Welsh Government, shouldn’t AM’s now become GM’s…or are the negative connotations of those initials too strong?

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