Opposition takes a stand against Labour hegemony

But Daran Hill says it has chosen an ill-considered nuclear option in tabling today’s motion of no confidence in Lesley Griffiths

Until recently, Lesley Griffiths has had a good run of steering the health service against the difficult backdrop of austerity measures and the perception, especially amongst the Tories, that the NHS is the poor relation in terms of budget priorities.

It is true that she has been under fire in recent months with her ability to manage NHS finances being questioned as the Welsh Government helped a number of LHBs to balance their books and the simmering unrest over the plans to reorganise the health service. But last week the unrest boiled over when the three opposition parties joined together to table a vote of no confidence over the independence of Professor Marcus Langley’s report on the case for reconfiguration which will be debated today.

However, motions of no confidence should not be issued lightly. It is not credible to take such action on the basis of political expedience. Instead, no confidence motions should be tabled in response to a fundamental failing of a policy or action, or based on a real public interest.

To table a motion on the basis of perceptions of the independence of a report, albeit coupled with concerns over the nature of the relationship between civil servants and independent consultants, is surely to take the nuclear option without the measured consideration of a full and frank investigation.

As Elin Jones told Lesley Griffiths, “You are accountable to us for your words and your actions. My interest today is in your words and not in Marcus Longley’s.” Surely it would have been better to allow the process proper parliamentary scrutiny to take its course in delving into the Minister and her officials’ actions or “words”, beginning with a scrutiny session in the Health Committee. In fact, that was agreed last Thursday morning. The tabling of the motion without investigating the situation properly first looks ill judged and opportunistic.

There is no doubt that the future of local health services delivery is an emotive issue. Kirsty Williams, Darren Millar and Elin Jones (an ex Minister herself) who were all scathing of the Minister as she delivered her rebuttal statement last week. Nonetheless, in using such terms  as ‘conniving’ and ‘collusion’, were they being a little overwhelmed by their own emotions and the clamour of their local voters? Should they have adopted a more pragmatic political response, which we might have expected of them as figureheads within their own parties? If truth be told, there are some deeper factors at work here.

Since its inception in 1999, the history of the National Assembly has seen Labour’s hegemony at the polls severely challenged. The party has not returned to the position of dominance it enjoyed during the second half of the 20th Century. At best it has returned minority government during the Assembly’s lifetime – indicating a pluralistic and partnership approach to government for the foreseeable future. The Liberal Democrats have been at pains to remind Labour of this pluralistic pattern, themselves having recently had some leverage over the Welsh Government’s budget plans. Last this week they vented their annoyance at Labour’s claim to the pupil premium policy, which they themselves negotiated at the bargaining table.

It is therefore arguable that the real reason for this motion of no confidence is the frustration of the opposition parties with what they see as Labour’s electoral arrogance. They want to take a stand against Labour assuming a mandate to rule without question. Liberal Democrat leader Kirsty Williams’ words were telling in this respect. As she put it:

“Labour politicians constantly remind us that they ‘won’ the election and that they have the ‘backing’ of the voters but the opposition parties have the exact same number of seats as they do”.

The furore over the First Minister’s personal statement on Trident over the last couple of weeks was testament to this anger with Labour and not wanting them to get away with anything they say or plan without democratic scrutiny. Let’s hope that the public perception of the Assembly after next week is not that of a political playground but of a grown up, Welsh democracy.

Daran Hill is Managing Director of Positif Politics

6 thoughts on “Opposition takes a stand against Labour hegemony

  1. The NHS in Wales needs to be reorganised. Local opposition to hospital closures or downgrading has been whipped up both openly and clandestinely by Plaid but no one is ever going to be happy seeing a local facility moved away… in other words, if they do what is necessary, Labour are on a hiding to nothing.

    The irony of this is that were any of the other three parties in power, or even in coalition, they would reluctantly be in the same position… obliged to court unpopularity in order to do what is right.

    So Plaid, Tories and Libdems show a united front of utter hypocrisy. They think that they are on to a sure fire winner here but when the smoke drifts away Labour will remind the voters that the alternative to Labour in power is to have a Tory dominated coalition of the other three parties.

    There has quite obviously been a fudge in the way that the remit of Longley’s report has been presented and the way that his own emails were worded hasn’t helped. It was quite possible for him to ask the minister whether she had any other important data that supported the case for reorganisation without it being in any way an innapropriate request.

    The worst view is that the Assembly has finally decided that the model of democratic debate that it most wants to follow is… Ynys Mon County Council’s.

  2. So, three columns in and Mr Hill has once again fixed his sights upon the opposition rather than the Welsh Government, effectively arguing somehow that the perception of the Assembly is more important than the £15bn or so that this administration spends on behalf of people in Wales.

    Neither does this piece make any effort to address the elephant in the room – is the Welsh Government somehow engaged in subverting the processes by which it is expected (and elected) to govern? Incredibly, Mr Hill writes: “Instead, no confidence motions should be tabled in response to a fundamental failing of a policy or action, or based on a real public interest”, in an instant passing partisan judgment on the worth of and the motives behind this motion, in favour of the Welsh Government.

    Instead of concentrating on this issue, which is one of honesty, this piece takes the route that we have come to expect from a woefully inadequate media we have here in Wales, focusing on the language used to debate it. That is unimportant.

    This piece also gives the false impression that issues of inadequate scrutiny lies entirely with opposition parties when it is clear, from the relentless cheerleading from Labour backbenches to the Welsh Government press releases that border on the sneering, that the Welsh Government makes every effort to make scrutiny difficult, if nigh-on impossible. Where in any other democracy would a government be allowed to explain away £6bn of spending with just one line in its budget document? And yes, that spending is the entire health budget.

    As this morning’s grilling has shown, when AMs are given the opportunity to grill a minister (and the vote of no confidence may well have been a ploy to get Lesley Griffiths to committee), they can make them very uncomfortable indeed. Long may that continue.

  3. As the party of Government, Labour have some very difficult decisions to make in terms of public sector cuts and with Local Govt, I believe that they have handled it well so far. However, they have endeavoured to create a perception with the NHS that the decisions are not being made by them but by ‘experts’. This is nonsense, as they are taking Civil Servants’ advice as always and have to take responsibility for changes/cuts to services. If they had not gone round pretending black was white (i.e. downgrading is not the same as removing services), then they would be in a far more credible position.

    They have taken well over a year devising ways of avoiding blame instead of taking decisions and getting on with it. The delay has made the cuts harder and has also made the likelihood of further Local Govt cuts almost inevitable.

    No-one will come out of this fiasco with much credit; this being one of the main failings of devolution since its inception.

  4. Jon, The hypocrisy lies in Labour AMs, such as Keith Jones and Labour Councillors in Carmarthenshire, actively campaigning against hospital downgrades prior to elections and pretending that their own government in Cardiff was not responsible for making the decisions – some nasty Local Health Board was.
    I remember Labour plaques being banded about in rallies condemning hospital downgrades and AMs speaking at rallies. Do you?

  5. One day a politician is going to stand up and tell the truth about the need to centralise specialist health services, in the interests of clinical efficiency and survival rates as well as money. And he/she will probably lose office for doing so. Wales, like other democracies gets the politicians it deserves.

  6. One thing I will agree with; politics in Wales has a history of failing to make hard decisions. As I have said before the failures in education are due to the willingness of the Government to accept the word of teachers that they didn’t need to be monitored. As Tredwyn says, the clinical rationale for centralisation of specialist services is undeniable and it follows from that that we can’t have an A&E on every corner for when little Johnny grazes his knee.

    I think that the failure of the (Mainly Labour dominated) governments to make unpopular decisions is a result of the precarious balance of power in Wales. This isn’t Westminster; here there are three opposition parties all sniping at the Government of the day and outright, comfortable majorities for the party in power are hard to come by. The result is an unwillingness to court bad publicity and public hostility.

    Even now Labour are passing off very necessary, life saving improvements to the NHS in Wales as being “Forced on them by the ConDems.” Certainly partly true but in reality Wales needs small hospital closures and small school closures…try going into an election with that in your manifesto in Wales!

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