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

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