Imagine if Wales had voted No to devolution in 1997

Lee Waters argues that devolution has acted as a barrier against some of the most radical UK Government policies.

Three weeks after the General Election and the implications of a five-year term for a radical Conservative majority Government are beginning to sink in.

The left are dejected; Labour in particular is discombobulated. Of course this has happened before. Conservative victories through the 1980s provoked the question to be asked after 1992, ‘can Labour win?’  It is being asked again, but this time there’s a big difference – devolution.

Even though there’s a considerable feeling that devolution has not achieved its promise on the economy and public services, few people mention that it has achieved its primary political objective: it has made Offa’s Dyke the line between right and left.

To prove my point, consider what would have happened over the last decade and a half had 6,721 people voted differently in the 1997 referendum.  Radical Conservative policies on health, education and a raft of other domestic issues would have been implemented, even though the Tories won just 27% of the vote in the most recent vote in Wales.  An NHS shake-up introducing competition and GP Commissioning of services; the spread of Free Schools and Academies, outside local authority supervision, free to hire unqualified teachers and rip up the curriculum; and the abolition of GCSEs, would all have been rolled out across Wales.

Policies that had been endorsed by voters in England, but had been opposed in Wales by parties that won the majority of votes, would nonetheless have been applied here too. The fact they haven’t been is perhaps one of the most unremarked upon features of Welsh politics since the establishment of the National Assembly.

This isn’t a partisan point, you may well think Welsh public services would have been better off introducing these reforms – indeed had the 1997 referendum been lost it is likely that some of these reforms would have been implemented in Wales by new Labour; the point is they would have been imposed against the grain of Welsh political consensus, and opponents would have been powerless to stop it.  Whereas now power over many domestic policies has been passed down, many of the most contentious policies in the manifesto of the winning party at Westminster won’t apply to Wales.

It may not be the best time to make this point – at a time when devolution is being criticised for failing to improve public services – but the 2015 General Election result marks the achievement of a Key Performance Indicator for Welsh devolution.

The reason I say this is because the principal political driver behind the establishment of the Assembly was as much a desire to stop changes being applied to Wales, as it was to implement a pre-designed alternative.

Support for devolution began to build after the 1987 General Election. Rhodri Morgan, one the intake of new Members of Parliament in 1987, felt that Welsh MPs were powerless to protect Wales from “the ravages of a Tory Government which, although totally rejected by the people of Wales, was completely rampant”, as he put it to me: “You had this huge, massive, rush of hard-line Conservative legislation – the Poll Tax, Electricity privatisation, Water privatisation …the fury of legislation which was put through in the first two years of that Government really was pretty astonishing and we could do absolutely nothing to stop it”.

Throughout the 80s and 90s Labour always performed better in Wales than it did in the UK as a whole, but remained in Opposition.  After the party’s fourth successive defeat in 1992 (and, critically, the removal of Neil Kinnock as Party leader), the left began to think that despite their strength Conservative majorities at Westminster risked rendering them powerless to prevent right-wing policies being implemented in Wales. “To put it very crudely” Kim Howells told me,  “in a lot of people’s minds they said ‘look, if we can never ever win Britain then we have got to change the rules’”.

The reason I bring up this history lesson is to note that the dejection of the left in Wales after this month’s General Election has echoes in the recent past. But the difference now is that devolution affords some protection from “the ravages of a Tory Government” – to use Rhodri Morgan’s phrase.  Had Wales voted No in 1997 left-of-centre parties in Wales would now be railing about David Cameron’s plans to extend the Right To Buy to Housing Association tenants, or to ‘turn every failing and coasting school into an academy, and deliver free schools if parents…want them’. But because of devolution those policies won’t apply in Wales.

Some may see this ability to defy a radical Westminster Government on at least some domestic fronts as the chief achievement of devolution – and it does provide a marked contrast to situation Wales faced in the 80s & 90s. But the real advantage devolution offers is the platform it provides to fashion an alternative political narrative. And that’s an advantage that has yet to be fully explored.

None of what I’ve argued lets the Welsh Government off the hook for its performance on policies and their implementation. But it does remind us that the devolution project was primarily about where power lies. The challenge now facing devolutionists is that unless the way those powers are used is sharpened up there is a risk that support for giving some powers back to Westminster may grow.

Lee Waters is IWA Director.

40 thoughts on “Imagine if Wales had voted No to devolution in 1997

  1. “The challenge now facing devolutionists is that unless the way those powers are used is sharpened up there is a risk that support for giving some powers back to Westminster may grow.”

    Or to put it another way, we wouldn’t be in this mess now if powers had remained with Westminster!

    Devolution has been an abject failure right across the board and the people in Wales should not be expected – indeed allowed – to suffer from the incompetence of the WG any longer. After 30 years in Wales I can’t think of a single damn thing run by the WG that works as well now in Wales as it does in England but when I moved here there was precious little to choose between them overall, even allowing for the Welsh Office getting in the way of efficient administration a little.

    The situation in key devolved public service delivery areas is now so bad that we shouldn’t be talking about electing another bunch of failures in 2016 to perpetrate this disaster we should be talking about how to re-integrate front line services in Wales with those in England NOW!

  2. It is not hard to imagine how Wales would be without devolution – not much different.

    True, our health service and our education system would be a bit better without devolution, according to most objectively measured comparisons with England since 1997, but it is difficult to say exactly how many more people would be alive rather than dead in Wales, and exactly how many more Welsh children would have benefited from a better start in life, without an Assembly.

    It is also true that without an Assembly we would have had to find another use the public money that went, as the ‘No’ campaign predicted, on a fancy building, generous salaries and expenses for members and their staffs, a whole new layer of bureaucrats and quangocrats, unnecessary reorganisations, etc. We might even have been forced to spend it on said health service and education system.

    As for protection from the ‘ravages of a Tory government,’ perhaps the Director of Wales’ leading, practically only, ‘independent think tank’ might want to examine that concept critically. And ask if there is any such thing. Perhaps we should stop getting our notions of history from films like ‘Brassed Off’ and
    actually make an effort to research the facts.

    After all, now that we have had five years of direct comparison, England looks distinctly un-ravaged relative to Wales. This is not to suggest an equivalent ‘ravages of Socialist government’ here – no, nothing so dramatic as ‘ravages,’ just mediocrity, needless expense, and waste of money, opportunity, years, and, saddest of all, people.

  3. I was curious to read the headline of this piece since it seemed to be an odd question to pose just after a General Election where parties of the left gained 51% of the vote in Wales (cf 50% vote for the SNP), 70% of the seats and when we are about to see a change to a reserved powers model for Welsh Government which will increase the scope for legislative action on a wider range of policies. It seems somewhat defensive.

    Stepping back from the statistics and trying to discern the politics at work, it seems the central concern is the performance (or lack of it) of the Welsh Government. Members of the Welsh Labour Party at all levels (with the possible exception of Alun Michael) have stated that there are warning signs which the party needs to heed if it is not to face further decline. So there’s not much denial going on. But there does appear to be timidity at work. The main accusation against the Labour Government is that its main focus is that of being a good manager of Wales but does not want to show political leadership (the current debate in Wales) or indeed fashion a nation in its own image. And the main reason for this appears to be that it is happy to be distinctive but does not want to be too out of step with what’s happening in England, since that’s where the block grant comes from. Electoral politics is very often about where a party is placed with regard to currents in popular thought and how well understood the strengths of those currents are. Scotland is the most obvious example. Bearing in mind Johann Lamont’s reference to the Scottish Labour Party being the branch office of London, the Westminster leadership appears to have decided that it the growing support for the SNP looks like an elephant and walks like an elephant, it must be a mouse. The clear turning point was in 2011 when the Scottish electorate increased the number of SNP seats in Holyrood from 46 to 69 and a subsequent majority government. That was the time to change strategy. As it turned out, there was a tide in the affairs of men which was not taken and led to shallows and miseries.

    So with regard to Wales, can the parallel be drawn? It’s certainly the case that, while there are policies that can be applauded from a progressive point of view, there does not appear to be a progressive vision as offered by the SNP. Rather there is, at best, a partial progressive pragmatism e.g. housing stock policy. Perhaps one should play the long game and wait for the reserved powers model to kick in before making any substantial moves in the progressive direction. But the anxieties expressed above suggest that is not what is going to happen and that the benign managerialism which characterises the current government will continue.

    Lee’s point regarding the call for the return of powers to Westminster based on the lack of Cardiff Bay’s performance on health and the economy is apposite in this sense. It helps to explain the thinking behind the switch of Labour voters to UKIP. If the current political arrangement is not providing something better than that which existed before, then why not reach for a party that offers the past on a plate?

    However, in terms of confronting Labour’s actual opponents and the current real and present danger they represent, Labour has to start taking the vision thing seriously. Peter Robinson recently pointed out that Britain was made up of four nations that are each represented by a different party: in England, the Conservatives; in Northern Ireland, the DUP; in Scotland, the SNP; and in Wales, Labour. What will it take therefore for Welsh Labour to take that position seriously and start to use their powers it has and will soon have to advance a progressive vision for Wales? A successful progressive society is the only sustainable way to confront the market driven society which the Tories offer from over the dyke, though this is currently resonating here with some success and looks set to do so for a while.

  4. i fear correspondents john walker and john winterson richards have allowed the recent general election results in wales to go to their heads. As all surveys of public opinion in wales show growing support for devolution and growing trust trust in the assembly (a trend only likely to intensify as a consequence of savage right wing government at westminister)

  5. I agree that the creation on Assembly in 1999 has protected us from the ‘exteme’ and right wing regime in Westminster.It is vital that more powers are needed to reinforce the huge improvements made in public services since 1999 so as to turn us into a ‘socialist’ paradise on earth which can by the ‘beacon’ for other countries struggling in the capitalist world.Just been ‘over the border’ and amazed at the appalling condition of inhabitants,and in particular my grand children who have NO education and can never see a doctor even when ill and bad.The people on plane were envious of us welsh people and our standard of public services and regularly watched S4C to see ‘real’ life of welsh people!!. The REAL reason for devolution was that the Labour Party in Wales could see no prospect of ‘power’ in Westminster and hence the ‘devolution’ exercise and who has really benefitted since 1999?. We now have more paid politicians in Wales per head of population than elsewhere in world,except North Korea and that is to expand in a few years,so GAWD help us all. Behind all the politicians there are so called ‘think tanks’,and academia that are ‘obsessed’ by constitution change,whilst grass cutting,or not/litter are getting worse and worse whilst highly paid CEO’s in ‘mickey mouse’ public bodies driving around in Porsche cars!!.

  6. The Westminster Government has failed Wales numerous times over the decades. Do we demand that they relinquish powers over criminal justice, NHS, planning?

    The main reason for devolution (in my eyes) is democracy. It means that Wales can vote for the Government it wants. I cringe when I see Stephen Crabb using the word ‘mandate’, when his party only won 11 out of 40 seats. His mandate comes from southern England.

    The quote this week from Leighton Andrews is very revealing:

    “I had expected to be negotiating with a Labour home secretary on the devolution of policing. Instead I find myself, after a gap of two years, with the prospect of renewing my acquaintance with Michael Gove.”

    The people of Wales voted for the devolution of policing by voting Labour as the biggest party in Wales. That’s a mandate, that’s democracy in my eyes.

    The one thing that gives me hope is the generation I come from (I’m 24). Even my most ‘UKIP-ey’ friends do not want to be run from Westminster in any meaningful way.

  7. “More paid politicians per head than anywhere except North Korea.” Please check your facts before making such statements. Wales has fewer elected paid officials per head than the United States or France, to name but two. No doubt the populations of those benighted countries are longing to give up their governments and be run from England – as you want Wales to be

  8. It’s pretty clear that when people from the ‘third sector’ write this stuff that supposedly is so attractive to the ‘real Welsh’ they are, in fact, only writing it to impress peers and hierarchical colleagues.

    The ‘real Welsh’ are just the same as ‘the hard working families’ of England. The type that adorn body, car or house with ‘the flag’. Uneducated, under-educated, un-aspirational. The sort of people that have no choice in life. No choice on where to live, no choice on what and where to work, no choice on where to educate their offspring, no choice on where to obtain healthcare and no choice on how much they should pay for life’s essentials.

    All in all a very sorry crowd. And a crowd that we’d all rather do without. But a crowd that Welsh Labour relies upon to stay in power. And a crowd that Welsh Labour continues to exploit by providing:

    i) sub-standard schools (so the kids stay dumb and under-educated), ii) education through the medium of Welsh (so the kids won’t be able to work anywhere), iii) appalling NHS healthcare (because unlike the rest of us they don’t know how to manipulate the system to get better treatment in England), iv) a welfare system to encourage dependency and child bearing (leading to more voters and more votes), and so on.

    So, if the devolution project was primarily about where power lies it has most certainly failed. Power lies with the educated. And the more we fight for better education in our country the less chance Labour has of ever holding power again.

  9. I fear that it is you Leigh that are getting carried away. There was a “trust” question in a poll in 2011:
    ‘How much do you trust the following to work in Wales’ best interests?”

    And in that poll 66% trusted the Welsh government against 27% trusting the Westminster government. Since the poll that you link to gives an Assembly trust rating of 35% and a Westminster trust rating of 21% the statement that you make:-
    .” As all surveys of public opinion in Wales show growing support for devolution and growing trust in the assembly,” is a false one. Trust in the Assembly is falling dramatically and trust in Westminster substantially…I suspect that it is this collapse in trust that has given rise to UKIP in Wales…a party without a clear vision or more than one original idea and which is embraced for no better reason than that every other party in Wales is so universally clueless.

    The problem of Welsh government cannot be cured by more powers and I suspect that, since you are a Plaid supporter, having more powers (the devocreep to independence) is an end in itself. The great failures of Welsh government are in areas where we have always had control and during a time when both the LibDems and Plaid shared government. Only the Tories are untested in Welsh politics and, as we all know, they never will be tested. UK government doesn’t work just because the Tories are sometimes in power or Labour are sometimes in power, UK politics works because there is an exchange of governments on a regular basis and the mistakes and ideological directions of one group of politicians can be adjusted by the incoming group until that party in turn makes enough mistakes to get thrown out. In Wales we have quasi-socialist or more quasi-socialist nationalist parties taking turns at quasi-socialist solutions to problems that they are ideologically incapable of solving. The only answer is re-integration with the rump of the UK so that, for better or worse, we have some hope of change.

  10. Lee Watters makes a valid point in the context of the results of the recent election and the lecture delivered by Laura McAllister at Hay on Wye recently (The Great Welsh Confidence Trick). The trajectory of the Welsh Government as a matter of evolving governance in Wales, and self government in specific areas of responsibility from Rhodri Morgan to the present is encouraging if you take the long term view. There are also unexpected disappointments. The question that lurks in my mind after reading Laura McAllister’s lecture is whether it’s lack of confidence of lack of performance that we’re addressing.

    The proposed bill on the Historic Environment is a case in point. I have just spent the past few days reviewing the full package of proposals currently before a Committee of the Assembly, and am disappointed in results so far. Is the disappointment because of a lack of confidence or lack of performance, or elements of both?

    Looking at the proposed bill in the context of the historical record, it struck me that the “Historic Environment of Wales” at the beginning of the 20th century was defined by a unique network of leaders such as Sir John Rhys, T.I Ellis, Professor J.E. Lloyd and O.M Edwards, with Lloyd George as political fixer. The list of names is longer. The core group produced significant results: the National Library of Wales, the National Museum of Wales, Welsh History Departments in the University of Wales, the Royal Commission of Ancient and Historic Monuments. National and regional eisteddfodau provided platforms to test ideas with an enthusiastic, competition-minded audience. All of this in the context of centralized and privileged circumstances of governance and Westminster-based laws.

    Fast forward to the present, and the question as to whether or not a similar brand of collaborative, networked approach is a valid model in the context of limited self government in Wales. The Welsh Government keeps talking about the “joined up” approach, but is the game really practiced to the point of knowledge, artistry and skill that we expect from our athletes or opera singers? Grand visions are eventually modified into legalese and bureaucratized into neat arrangements. The “confidence trick” comes into play in the transition zone between vision and the drafting of laws and bureaucratic arrangements – the zone where John Rhys and his team excelled, and played a great game.

    Which leaves me with the lingering thought that perhaps the players that Wales needs in the present transition period will need knowledge and skills in entrepreneurship, governance, knowledge management, collaboration and technology. But I’m only repeating, and placing in an up to date context, what I read in Welsh Newspapers Online about the subjects that mattered to people in Wales during the 1890’s.

  11. A timely reminder of the reasons the Welsh Assembly came into being and I’d agree Wales is protected policy wise, but I suspect the reason for growing concern is the same as it was in the 80’s and 90’s, a lack of economic clout and powers in Cardiff.

    The economic pain the Tories will now inflict through public service cuts and Welfare reform an area the Welsh Government has no control of can’t be mitigated in Cardiff Bay mainly because the WG hasn’t enough money or any clout in Westminster or Whitehall. That’s in direct contrast to the SNP Scottish Government who’ve used the extra money they get via the Barnett formula to essentially cancel the bedroom tax since in Scotland since 2010 and mitigate the worst of the Tory/Lib Dem Coalition cuts and will probably carry on doing what they can for the next 5 years.

    Welsh devolution is still backed by a majority, but how long that consensus lasts rests on enough voters believing the Welsh Government and Assembly are doing the best for Wales and are worth keeping, delivery of key projects like the Valleys Metro and Swansea Tidal Lagoon will go some way to ease worried minds especially when money is tighter than ever and the Assembly’s opponents sense an opportunity to turn the tide in their favour, but nothing can be taken for granted.

  12. The whole devolution project has done nothing but turbo charge the vulgar paranoia and insularities of nationalism both here, in Scotland and in England.

    If we are not extremely careful, the people of this country (ie the UK, I do not recognise Wales as a ‘country’, it is not a sovereign state) will face a future of division, instability and a doomed philosophy of hate thy neighbour come what may.

    Yet again, nationalism seems hell-bent on coming back to haunt us.

    Ernest Gellner said that nationalism is the creation of a nation state where none before existed, and this is precisely what is happening in Wales.

    Yes, Welsh Labour has held sway in Wales for nearly one hundred years and look where this has got us:

    A sub-standard health service.

    A sub-standard education system.

    A sub-standard economy.

    Indeed, Wales has become an out and out laughing stock or as one parliamentary adviser once told me, ‘it is so fabulously dotty’. So let’s just stop fooling ourselves with lovely, smart arse intellectual piffle, and see things as they are.Ideology, particularly of the Welsh language variety, turns men into savages and violates intelligent discourse.

    Devolution in Wales has done nothing but provide a cosy haven for an elite, Welsh speaking few, and a marginalising of the many.

    At eighteen I left Swansea for London and other parts of the world. Thirty years later I returned to Wales.

    After nine years of living here, I will shortly be going back to England.

    I wonder why?

    Julian Ruck

    PS The denial knocking about here at the IWA is more bloody mesmerising than a pipe full of opium at an up-market Parisian brothel!

  13. It was disappointing that Lee Waters failed to mention that Wales’ public services are underfunded through the Barnett Formula. Devolution should be judged on a financial ‘level playing field’. Nor did he query why devolution seems to have has had better health and education results in Scotland.

    Also the centralised Westminster ‘first past the post’ system has left us with, if you’re a left of centre voter, the very depressing prospect that a party can now wreak havoc to public services with the proposed £12 Billion of cuts when it doesn’t have a democratic mandate for this. The Conservatives got elected on just 37% of the UK vote on a turnout of 66% (which is 24.5%, less than a quarter of the population). They can now push ahead in England with potentially catastrophic policies which devolution will protect us from such as:

    ‘Free Schools’ have no local democratic oversight and promote division in communities through the establishment of institutions such as faith schools promoting religious fundamentalism. The sectarian results of this division and its consequences will take probably decades before its potentially catastrophic consequences will show. Devolution has protected us from this Conservative folly.

    Reform of the NHS in England. The Kings Fund says reorganisation of the NHS under the Tory lead last government was disastrous – see The aim has been to shift the balance of power in the NHS to give GPs more say over the way budgets are spent. GPs aren’t trained as business people, they’re trained in treating sick people. From what I understand, most GP practices have archaic management systems where the senior partner isn’t the most able its the GP who’s been there the longest! Again from what I’ve heard about the quality of practice manager they are generally not fantastic. So why place budgets of billions of pounds into the hands of untrained GPs? Again devolution has protected us from this Conservative folly.

    Devolution allows us in Wales to have the government we want. It may upset some conservative/UKIP voters but its only fair that a country gets the government it wants. No where else in the world does a country say ‘our government isn’t as good as the one over there so we’d like our government abolished and run by someone else’. On that basis if the English public services aren’t as good as say French or German ones shouldn’t England demand to be run by France or Germany!

    Also some of the responses on Lee Waters article suggest that Wales’ problem is that its always voted Labour and other parties don’t get a look in. Indeed in terms of the largest percentage of vote at UK general elections Wales has voted Labour every time since 1945. However devolution has allowed Welsh voters to see a Labour government in action in Wales. At the next assembly elections Welsh Labour voters who have been disappointed by the current Assembly Labour Government will no doubt listen more keenly to alternatives and its up to the other parties like the Conservatives to give a vision that connects with Welsh voters on how they would improve the Welsh public services.

  14. To Rhobat Bryn Jones,

    Re: Your previous comment in respect of Welsh speakers and Welsh institutions

    You cannot possibly be serious??

    I can give you a list as list as long as my arm in respect of Welsh speakers who run our institutions.

    From CBI Wales,the Arts Council of Wales, BBC Wales, Welsh National Opera, Wales Audit Office…….to a large number of AM’s and MP’s to name but a few, oh and not forgetting of course our very own First Minister whose first language is Welsh (by his own admission) and who is also a fully paid up druid!

    Like I say, there’s a hell of a lot of denial around here and frankly, it seems to me that it is an utterly pointless exercise writing any further comments.

    My ‘Letters from Wales’ will be up and running again at the end of June, uncut and minus the desperate Welsh language,nationalist propaganda.

    I really do believe that before long the ‘silent majority’ in Wales will wake up from their slumbers. You people really are going too far: the imposition of Welsh medium primary schools only, to give just one example.

    The lack of support for Plaid Cymru at the General Election should be a salutary warning for you and remember, most of Wales’ population is in the English speaking South.

    Julian Ruck

  15. @ Julian Ruck

    “… it seems to me that it is an utterly pointless exercise writing any further comments.”

    Sound advice.

  16. @Ross Tredwyn. We currently pay politicians at 4 levels,i.e District Council/Assembly/Westminster/Europe and that seems an ‘overkill’ of democracy to humble me!!. They are in many ways like 4 dogs fighting over the same bone and what a mess it creates. When you add in the payments made to (very well scrutinised) members of ‘quangos’ that makes 5 levels of funding!!.I do not wish to have our public services run from England,but revert to the old ‘system’ in that major policy decisions made by Westminster,in which we are ‘over represented at present’,and local management of services.If you can kindly tell me where and how the current ‘settlement’ has improved services and provided a ‘bigger bang for my buck’ I would be most grateful.I like most people I know and respect are now totally ‘sceptical’ about current situation as we seem to have appointed a group of very average people to the assembly who seem stuck in a 1945 mindset,whereas we have moved on to a more ‘individualistic’ view of the world.We will just have to agree to differ,but in apolite and generous manner!!

  17. It seems there might be changes ahead in the Labour Party’s strident ‘opposition’ to the current Governments proposals for welfare reductions in coming years. Prior to the election and under direction of RED ED they accused the Conservatives of wishing to harm people living on benefits,and turn the clock back to the ‘bad old’ days of mass poverty. They got a good ‘thumping’ and having heard the voices of REAL people in ballot box a new attitude seems to abroad,particularly as hard working people have had enough of some people ‘choosing’ a life of idleness etc etc. In the Daily Telegraph on the 30/5/15 BLUE BURNHAM says he ”supports cuts to the welfare bill”,well that is a change. Caroline Flint the shadow energy secretary has also said that Labour should give a “kick up the backside” to people who choose to live of benefits. Harriet Harman said the party was “sympathetic” to the Tories’ plan to cap household benefit at £23,000,down from £26,000. If they truly believe it now why did they spout such ‘rubbish’ before the 7/5/2015.It doesn’t look like devolution is going to stop the changes to welfare state in coming years as the ‘right’ is now in charge and will be forever with changes pattern of employment. We have a FM,who whilst being ‘decent and honest’ is frankly out of his depth and endlessly drones on about the ‘constitution’,rather than getting to grips with public services/overmanning etc etc.

  18. I keep reading phrases like ‘majority increasingly in favour of devolution’. Now using my WJEC O level maths it seems that the 6721 majority was part of the 50% turnout at the last definitive test of public opinion – the referendum. So the majority didn’t vote in favour. To claim welsh devolution – the choice of a minority – equals good democracy yet conservative minority control to equal bad democracy doesn’t stack up.

    In Wales we now seem to be world class at making excuses and ducking responsibility. We artificially limit ourselves by stuffing public positions with non technical ‘Aber grad’s and those belatedly inserting ap into their name to get extra points at interview. This is now a systemic weakness, it means that our decision makers are then drawn from a narrower gene pool – statistically there are not enough good ones to go around. Too often they seem to lack the critical thinking skills to cut it in the 21st century where defensible evidence based decision making is required. The thought of crossing Offa’s Dyke and being shown up as lacking on a world stage I suspect makes many WG staff and politicians fill their pants so they make themselves busy on the small local cultural issues where they can’t be challenged.

    Incredibly I am in favour of devolution as a concept but in practice it just doesn’t seem to be working very well that is primarily our fault not one of Westminster’ s.

    I suggest that for all prospective AMs and key WG appointees a requirement to demonstrate the ability to sit the right way round on a lavatory seat becomes a key part of the selection process.

  19. Howell,
    There is nothing unusual in the situation you describe. Germany has local government, state government, federal government and representation in the European parliament. The population of the UK is now over 60 million. Three levels of administration is fairly normal in such a state. We used to have three in the UK before devolution and before unitary local authorities. Entering the EU adds a fourth but then you are talking about an entity of over 300 million people. The bigger the entity, the more levels of management you get . That’s true in the private sector too. You could reduce government by having smaller states. Plaid Cymru might like that but I don’t think you would from your contributions up to now.

  20. Brian, you query the statement that the ‘majority increasingly in favour of devolution’ and use the 1997 referendum to back up your opinion.

    Like many who argue against devolution in Wales (or perhaps in your case the form of devolution?) you conveniently forget the referendum of just four years ago which asked the people of Wales, “Do you want the Assembly now to be able to make laws on all matters in the 20 subject areas it has powers for?” The result Yes 63.49% No 36.51%.

    I am well aware of the contrived and rather tedious arguments used by those on the No side who to call into question the validity of this vote. But in reality no amount of equivocation can deny the vote was nothing other than an overwhelming and clear statement of the people’s desire for (not devo-max or independence) but more devolution.

  21. just shows how anti unionist Lee Waters is!
    Frankly i object strongly to having my birthright and heritage and nationality as British stolen from me by a fanatic left wing minority who do not gell with the general public in reality. This spereratist dogma will eventually lead wales to complete economic disaster. Remember just 35% of the voting publics vote in wales counted under this old outdated first past the post system. So the vast majority of voters have been effectively muzzled. The ukip vote in wales was one of the highest in the uk and these seperatist need to get real. The scotland honeymoon will not last when real politics in theis big changing world takes effect. The eu which these seperatist love so much will eventually swallow them up whole and they will be forced to ditch their nationality and identity to the greater european homogenous whole (which of course will be german based in the new fith reich). So lets say wales gets free. It will have no call on the english taxpayer who effectively keep them afloat, forget the eu they will not care. Wales will have to have its own bonds to sell on the open market, competeing with all the other nations of the world currently the german bond market is some 70% depreciated, as are most of the eu bonds as this one size fits all policy of the eu keeps destroying the eu coutries ability to compete in a major changed world. The uk must remain as a vibrant complete union, and go for a bigger union with its world trading partners in the commonwealth, which make up a bigger market than china in terms of gdp and has all the worlds resources, and over twenty of the worlds fastest growing economies with the youngest population base of over 65% under 25 and they have historic common bonds with the uk. Together are future is greater than our past and together we can really challenge the hegemony of the likes of china, and the usa in a different way forward. Sign up for the new bill of rights from the commonwealth. The uk and wales have less than 5% influence in the eu now, and the likesof Lee Waters are living in their own fantasies of this great and glorious future wales, its a pipedream. The future lies where the strength of community and resources and money lay and that is the commonwealth. This organisation isthe real challenger to discrimination, slavery, prejudice and fascist dogma that comes from the left and seperatists.

  22. Lee, you state that New Labour reforms would have been imposed against the grain of welsh consensus.How did you arrive at that conclusion? Do you assume that a consensus in the Assembly represents one in the country? Yes they are elected but then so were the MPs from Wales who implemented the “non consensual reforms”. The latter group of course on a much higher turnout.

  23. Llyn, you are referring to the 2011 referendum where the turnout was just 35.63% of the total electorate meaning just 517,132 of a possible 2,289,044 felt strongly enough to vote for it (so actually just 23% of the people made a ‘clear statement’ in favour). A 36% turnout is hardly quorate in any other human endeavour is it ? Slipping things past a disengaged electorate is never a great way of getting long term buy in – that’s why the widespread whining continues. For simple Yes/No referendum decisions we have got to find a better way which at least requires a minimum turnout threshold or democracy is doomed.

  24. The anti-devolutionist responders to the Lee Water’s article seem very downbeat about devolution, even suggesting we join commonwealth countries in the third world to form a trade block (I hope they are willing to take their wages). Unfortunately their view is not really constructive, they all say power must be centralised in London as, in their view, politicians there make fair decisions for Wales. They don’t mention that Wales’ public services have been underfunded by this same Westminster government through the Barnett Formula and the Holtham Commission showed that over the years this has amounted to billions of pounds.

    They should recognise that centralised power has failed terribly not only for Wales and Scotland but also the North of England with the South East amassing the wealth to go with the power. Other countries with more modern democracies such as Germany, Canada, Australia and the US have shown decentralised power works better in enriching their regions and states. They also don’t mention the John Redwood scandal in 1995, prior to devolution, when as the then Welsh Secretary he boasted of sending millions of pounds of unspent money from the block grant back to the Treasury, money which could have been used in our schools, hospitals and transport system.

    In Britain centralised government has created an age of greed. Margaret Thatcher introduced the concept of the ‘trickle down’ effect, that is make the rich richer and the money will trickle down to the poorest. This experiment has run since 1979 through both Conservative and New Labour (Tory lite) administrations and has failed appallingly (for example, where did all that nortth sea oil revenue disappear to?). In this age of greed we have let CEOs fill their ‘pockets’ with money from the company till and the length of the trickle has only got longer – in 2014 CEO’s earned £5 million, 170 times times the average wage whereas in the late 1990s they earned ‘only’ £1 million or 60 times the average wage.

    Many other things are wrong. For example through tuition fees youth now start lfe with massive debt that’ll take most of their lives to pay back. In effect their lives are partly owned/enslaved by the banks.

    Overall it would probably be better if Wales broke completely away from the greedy London/South East mindset and their sycophants and became a separate country where fairness was the rule for everyone. The next best thing is devolution and with both devolution and fair funding from London we in Wales can show that greed is wrong, there is a better way.

  25. jeff.(who ever you are).I agree entirely and so do about 90% of welsh people,even though they might disagree on a left/right political agenda,but not on keeping us firmly within the UK. The 10% are well entrenched,and use their considerable power/influence,particularly in a)media,b)so called THINK tanks but thankfully the remaining 90% seem not to be buying the message. We will probably get ‘more powers’ but with less money from Westminster as why should the middle class English support a political class that THEY have rejected through the ballot box.Why not start a ‘movement’ called KEEPING WALES IN UK and you’d be amazed at the level of support!!

  26. There is another aspect to this article which has only just occurred to me. One of the main reasons for my small part in the Campaign for a Welsh Parliament which launched after the 1992 general election result was the fact that Wales was dominated by a Tory political agenda that it did not vote for, a fundamentally undemocratic position to be in.

    As Lee points out, the Labour Party found that in every election since 1979 that they had won a majority of the seats, but were no closer to power than they were before. Hence the swing behind the devolution campaign. There is every indication that the First Minister is keen on strengthening this particular strategy. First up will be the switch to the reserved powers model which should provide greater legislative room for manoeuvre. Today (3rd June) he met with the First Minister of Scotland in Edinburgh where they both agreed to fight plans to repeal the Human Rights Act 1998 and that it would be “unacceptable” for the UK to leave the EU unless each of the four nations voted ‘No’.

    However the point that is turning in my mind is that even if the National Assembly was able to strengthen its powers and move towards a more social democratic society, it would still be living next door to a country that seems determined to build a more market-driven one. So the question on my mind is what would be the nature of the pressures that could be brought to bear on a social democratic Wales and what level of power and what kind of policies would be necessary to ameliorate, mitigate or even successfully rebuff such influences?

  27. Rhobat, as we have discussed before, the issue is not democracy – practically everyone is agreed on that – but the boundaries of the polity within which that democracy operates. If part of a country wants to opt out of those bits of that country’s policy it dislikes, then it would be illogical to deny a part of that part – right down to an individual – the same right to opt out. You can have your ‘social democracy’ if you want if you give those of us who do not want the same choice, so that we will have no part of it. Your final sentence suggests an awareness that such a ‘social democracy’ could not last long next to a more liberal polity.

    On the same lines, Chris Lewis’ statement that we anti-devolutionists believe in a centralised state comes as news to us anti-devolutionists! No, Chris, it is precisely because we want a truly decentralised liberal polity that we oppose the centralising collectivist Welsh Assembly.

    It is interesting to note how words in leftist lexicons have taken on the opposite of their actual meaning.

    For example, to use the resources one is given diligently is not ‘greed’ but enterprise. The word ‘greed’ is more accurately applied to those who aspire to live off the enterprise and diligence of others – which is basically the policy of the Welsh Assembly.

    Similarly, ‘fairness’ is securing to each what he earns by that diligence and enterprise, not taking it from him by force and giving it to those who have shown neither and contributed nothing.

    Finally, a ‘sycophant’ is one who flatters those in power for his own end, and opposing the Welsh Assembly and the Labour Party is definitely not the way to secure public appointments or contracts in Wales! While it would be wrong to say that all devolutionists are sycophants, all sycophants are necessarily devolutionists here.

  28. Rhobat; the Campaign for a Welsh Assembly(later Parliament) was formed after the !987 election and I was its Chair.
    Wales is poorer than England and naturally inclines towards a less market driven economy.Regional devolution in England would result in a similar divergence. What pressure is brought to bear on more socially democratic regions? Well he who pays the piper calls the tune. Wales cannot expect a more generous welfare system paid for by taxes on London and South East England. If we expect our students to have free university education the funding must come from other welsh services or from less money spent in Universities and schools. If in Health England extends co-charging and Wales extends free prescriptions,parking etc then less money is available for other services.
    I would like Lee to answer my earlier question;how does he conclude that there was a consensus in Wales that was opposed to the New Labour public service reforms?

  29. @ Jon Owen Jones

    I seem to remember attending a meeting (was it in Brecon?) with yourself in the chair though I can’t remember the year. However I believe it was before your election as MP for Cardiff Central in 1992. I believe I’m right in saying that you decided to withdraw from the campaign after your election but that you would continue to argue the case for devolution as an MP. If we’re being technical, then the use of the word ‘launch’ is not strictly correct. But I remember a meeting that took place at a Labour Party activist’s home in Brecon with only a few devoted souls present to decide what we were going to do about the Campaign in the wake of the 1992 election result, I think. My feeling at the time, and that is always a subjective point of view of course, was that we were not dealing with a situation requiring continuity. It felt as if we were sitting among the ruins, wondering whether anything could be done. It was decided that it could but it was only really when BIFU, the banking union, decided to support what had become the Campaign for a Welsh Parliament, that the campaign began to acquire political significance. It was, as a campaign, politically broadly based from the start. My memory is that the Campaign for a Welsh Assembly had more of a Labour focus and was aimed at putting devolution into the Labour Party manifesto. However I’m not sure how reliable that memory is. Perhaps you could put me right on that one.

    However, returning to the present, I also would be interested to hear what Lee’s response to your question is.

    Thank you for your reply to my question regarding pressures on social democratic polities. It comes back to having to face up to Wales’ poverty and the lack of political leverage that the financial deficit brings with it. I would posit however that the SNP is operating a social democratic model of politics and yet is not having too much difficulty exercising political influence. Why then Is Welsh Labour, which has the hegemony here and faces no credible threat from Plaid, not in a position to do the same?

  30. Lee if your are on holiday or otherwise indisposed my apologies for the following. I have asked you to a question which is key to your argument and you have not responded and that disappoints me.
    I do not believe that there was a Welsh Political consensus on public sector reform. It is too complex an issue to create a national consensus. A consensus exists around having good or better services and about not paying too much tax. The public also want competent government in order to achieve those two objectives. There is little difference here between England and Wales. So why did policies diverge? In 2000 a Prime Minister with a huge party mandate and a massive government majority in a well established institution took on the vested producer interests within public services. At the same time a First Minister with no party mandate(murky waters here) and no government majority and in a brand new institution did not follow suit. There was some history between the two leaders and Rhodri had personal as well as political reasons for being different. Labour had gone through 3 Welsh Leaders in as many years there is nothing ordained about the path we eventually took. However any Welsh leader would have found it much harder to take bold and challenging decisions.
    Wales and England have differences but they also have similarities. It is perhaps natural that a Welsh Institution will stress the former but we should not exaggerate it.

  31. With regards John Winterson Richards comments 5th June:

    Glad to hear both you and like minded anti-devolutionists like decentralisation. You suggest a ‘truly decentralised liberal polity’, I’m not sure what that means exactly but it sounds like you want power to individuals and not government, a kind of anarchy. Similarly on your earlier point of individuals opting out of parts of a country’s policy they dislike. that’s also an anarchist view. So whilst you may be an anarchist I don’t believe this is a practical system, you’d still need a government.

    You suggest that in my comment on 3rd June I’ve used the word ‘greed’ in the opposite way of its actual meaning. Well the Concise Oxford Dictionry Fifth Edition defines greed as ‘Insatiate (never satisfied) longing especially for wealth’. When CEOs are taking 170 times the average wage up from 60 times in the 1990s then I disagree you can call that ‘enterprise’, it’s greed. Take for example Lloyds Banking Group boss Antonio Horta-Osorio has had a pay package for 2014 worth 11.5 million pounds, that’s over £220k a week and 390 times the average wage. In my view this is a form of stealing and in this current age of greed it seems if you steal £100 you’re a thief, if you steal £1 million you’re a businessman and if you steal £10 million you’re a banker!

    I disgree with your suggestion that the current Labour run Welsh Assembly Government only support people who live off the ‘enterprise and diligence of others’. Historically Labour has tried to support the less well off in order to make a fairer society. And I’d say ‘fairness’ means treating people in a way that is right and reasonable.

    With regards this issue of ‘fairness’ you say it’s ‘securing to each what he earns by that diligence and enterprise’ which I think is an incorrect definition. Again taking CEOs as an example, you should be able to recognise that CEOs earn their wages through the work of the employees of their respective companies. Without the hard work of those employees the CEOs wouldn’t have their jobs. So fairness would be for the CEOs not to take grotesquely large pay rises unless all the employees had similar pay rises.

    I thought your comment on sycophancy was entertaining. And by not condemning the culture of greed by our elites you’re flattering them. It’s disappointing that you take this view, I’m sure you can be better than that.

  32. Chris, with respect, you confuse liberalism with anarchism. The paradox of anarchism is that it leads in the end to loss of freedom, so the liberal accepts the need for government to prevent that, but no more than is necessary to prevent that.

    For example, no liberal would contest the truth that laws against theft are necessary to protect the freedom to enjoy what one earns. So, if anyone becomes rich through theft, the law should punish them.

    Yet, while it is a fact that some have indeed become rich through theft or other criminal activity, albeit usually temporarily,and should therefore be punished, what those on the left fail to acknowledge is that the fast majority who become and remain better off do so through activities that are inherently noble and desirable – working when others relax, investing when others spend, and showing initiative when others conform.

    We need to decide whether another generation of Welsh children should be taught to resent those who do such things or to emulate them. It is clear that resentment has done nothing to improve the lot of previous generations here, while an ethos of enterprise has enabled other places to do much better.

    That resentment – rather than right and reason – has been the distinguishing feature of the Labour Party in Wales. The irony is that the ‘less well off’ you mention are the ones who suffer most from this. If we want future generations to do better than the preceding ones, Wales must change.

  33. With regards John Winterson Richards’ comments on 15th June:

    With respect to yourself John, I think you are incorrect in your use of the words ‘liberalism’ and ‘anarchism’. Again consulting my Concise Oxford Dictionary 5th Edition liberal is defined as ‘favourable to democratic reforms and abolition of privilege’ and anarchism as ‘absence of government’. So Liberalism supports social democracy which equals strong government action. Indeed it was through liberalism that David Lloyd George, who is Wales’ only UK Prime Minister, founded the welfare state bringing in state pensions and National Insurance.(Incidentally Wales has had more Australian Prime Ministers (two) than British (one). It shows how broken our system is that a Welsh person has more chance of being Prime Minister if they travel to the other side of the planet!)

    With regards your comments on the wealthy, I think you are wrong to say those on the left fail to acknowledge those who work hard should not be able to keep wealth. I think what the left would argue is when wealth becomes extreme then measures like taxation should be used to enable that person to support the society they are an important part of. For example I mentioned in my previous comment Lloyds Banking Group boss Antonio Horta-Osorio had a pay package for 2014 worth £11.5 million, that’s a staggering £31,500 a day. Can you imagine how you’d spend that amount per day? This is greed not enterprise and I think anyone who tries to argue that ‘greed is good’ has lost their moral compass. Unfortunately Mr Horta-Osorio is too blinded by his own greed to recognise that most of this money really belongs to his team of 88,000 employees.

    The reasons you suggest for the wealthy to keep extreme wealth aren’t valid excuses for greed – ‘working when others relax’…… could equally apply to those who spend 24/7 caring for an elderly parent with dementia for example.

    ‘investing when others spend’ –investing excessive pay in the stock market tends to end up as numbers on a computer screen which can disappear in the next stock market fall. Better to put the money to work in a fair way – social services, health, education or, in the case of Lloyds Bank, return it to the workforce who’s endeavours created that wealth.

    ‘Showing initiative when others conform’ – this could apply to vast numbers of people in all walks of life, including many of those working for corporations not just the overpaid CEOs.

    When you suggest that Welsh children are taught to resent the super rich sadly that is an insult to the teachers of Wales. Teachers educate what’s on the curriculum and last time I looked ‘resenting the super rich’ wasn’t a curriculum subject anywhere in Wales! The state education system is, as it should be, politcally unbiased.

    When you say ‘…. an ethos of enterprise has enabled other places to do much better.’ Is to misunderstand the significant negative impact of over-centralised power.
    Where political power is located also attracts enterprise. Many able Welsh people went from Wales to London and the South East because of this and helped boost that region. Now with devolution some significant power has moved to Wales. Its going to take time to get us out of the ‘poverty-difficult to attract investment’ cycle caused by over-centralisation but we’re beginning to see the start of economic benefits with the just announced record number of inward investments for example.

    I think you’re wrong to say the Labour Party in Wales is based on resentment. I think Labour in Wales really do want a fair and just society for all citizens based on fair ‘right and reason’. The less well-off suffer not due to resentment of the super-rich but the decades of Westminster governments that have failed not only Wales but the other nations and less well-off regions of the UK. Today the Welsh Government has the difficult and unenviable job of clearing up Westminster’s negligence and mess.

  34. Chris, knowing absolutely nothing about you, would it be correct to assume that you are a fairly young man? If so, please be open to some paternal, or at least, avuncular, advice from one who has been where you are. Nothing a stranger on a website like this will ever convince you of anything. You will be convinced only if you find out things for yourself – and now is the time to test the assumptions with which you have been brought up or which you have picked up from those around you. Study the viewpoints of those who disagree with those assumptions – and particularly the actual reasons why they hold beliefs that contradict yours, not why you think they do. Just consider the possibility that, at least in some respects, they might be right and you might be wrong.

    Your statement that the state education system is unbiased is hilariously wrong. Certainly going through the comprehensive system in the 1970s, only one side of the debate was on offer. It took going to a University outside Wales to learn that there was another side to the debate.

    This is not to say that other side is necessarily correct in every respect, but in order to say whether it is or not, you, and many others in Wales, need to take a step back, set aside inherited prejudices, and study it calmly, fairly, and objectively. You might be surprised where it takes you.

  35. John, I was sorry to read in your comment that you had a blighted education but, on the bright side, at least it was good enough to get you to university and, unlike if you went now, your university education was free. After 40 years where the free market dogma has been dominant I guess that’s you’d call that progress?

    With regards your comments that I’m not open to other viewpoints, I disagree, I am open to having my views challenged which is why I’ve responded to your comments. I’m also willing to change my own views but to do this there needs to be a valid case made against these views and you’ve not done this. You’re against Welsh devolution preferring power is given to individuals however you fail to say how this anarchic type system would work in the real world.

    You’re comments are quite verbose really without presenting a reasoned case against what I’ve said. In your latest comment your argument is based on a somewhat patronizing view that ‘I’m older so wiser than you’ which fails totally as an argument, .

    You also say you’d like Welsh people to set aside inherited prejudices However I wouldn’t call believing in a fair and just society a prejudiced view..

    So your comment “take a step back, set aside prejudices, and study it calmly, fairly, and objectively. You might be surprised where it takes you.” sounds more of a rhetorical question about your own views. And when you say ‘I’ve been where you are’, well, its never too late to come back!

  36. Chris, you can hardly claim about someone else being verbose when you have yourself used taken more words and column inches to repeat essentially the same points you made before.

    This is why a deliberate decision was taken not to present an alternative case to you in detail or indeed to try to convince you of anything. As commented earlier, you will not be convinced of anything unless and until you find it out for yourself. That is, incidentally, no bad thing.

    The point that was definitely not being made was that ‘age brings wisdom.’ It most certainly does not! There are enough old fools around to disprove that! Yet experience does bring knowledge, which, when combined with reflection in the open-minded, can put inherited prejudices in perspective.

    For example, you seem to equate ‘fair and just society’ with collectivist and egalitarian. Have you ever seriously wondered why so many believe the opposite?

    You also continue to confuse anarchism with liberalism, despite the distinction having been explained earlier. You really ought to be aware of the fact that history offers a great many examples of successful liberal or minimal states in ‘the real world.’

    You seem unaware of the fact that it was not ‘free market dogma’ but New Labour which introduced university tuition fees, and with them struck a heavy blow against social mobility.

    You are therefore quite right about one thing: those of us who benefited from free university tuition in the 1980s owe a debt of gratitude to the more enlightened government we had in those days and to its leader …Margaret Thatcher.

  37. John, don’t know about verbose, I’ve tried to inform you about the many and various failures of the minimal, centralized government model you favour. Disappointingly your replies don’t actually say anything of substance. But with regards your latest points:

    As requested I’ve searched for an answer why so many people believe the opposite to a fair and just society and all reasons seem to return to the fact we are living in a time of intense greed.

    You offer no defence of the centralized state and free markets. You say this is because you feel you can’t persuade me. However your failure to even try to put a case is rather feeble and suggests your faith in free markets is based more from a zealot’s type of belief rather than any reasoned justification.

    Then you seem to go on to say that you’re not wise but a very knowledgeable fool! Again not helpful in trying to create a pursuasive case for your point of view.

    When you say there are many examples of successful liberal states in the real world you again fail to define your type of liberalism – your comments suggest you are an economic liberal (for free markets) not a social liberal (where government has an important role in addressing economic and social issues such as poverty, health care and education).This is an important distinction. As an example in the USA the Republicans favour economic liberalism whereas Democrats favour social liberalism. Analysis has shown the Democrats have run their economies more successfully (see Want a Better Economy? History Says Vote Democrat! No doubt there are similar statistics for Germany with the Social Democrats on one side and Christian Democrats on the other. What both these successful economies have in common is they’ve devolved power down to a smaller state level and that success is magnified by social liberal governments. In the UK devolution has just begun decanting power from London and in time there will be economic benefits coming out of that.

    As I’ve said in a previous comment New Labour were only ‘Tory Lite’ and pursued many ‘free market dogma’ policies which included tuition fees. Although I think you are a bit unfair on them being the first with tuition fees, The rot really started with Margaret Thatcher. Her last education act, the Education (Student Loans) Act (26 April 1990) introduced ‘top-up’ loans for HE students which began the destruction of student grants.

    And of course Margaret Thatcher took milk off children and certainly didn’t introduce free education. But to be fair to the Conservatives, it was Prime Minister Macmillan in 1962 who introduced free tuition and mandatory maintenance grants for students to cover tuition fees and living costs. Its very sad that this old fashioned considerate conservatism is now long gone and been replaced by the modern ‘greed is good’ conservativism.

    You are incorrect to suggest I said the 1980s governments were ‘enlightened’. On many levels the Governments of the 1980s were an absolute failure for the UK, I know you’ll disagree but, in my view, Margaret Thatcher’s governments were not ‘enlightened’ and history shows they were anything but, take a look at

  38. Chris, this dialogue is very enjoyable, but, with respect, it would help if you responded to what was said rather than what you want to think was said.

    For example, you refer to the ‘minimal, centralized government you favour.’ Really? ‘Centralized’? Surely the point is that a minimal government is by its nature the most decentralised form of government.

    Similarly, you state ‘you offer no defence of the centralized state.’ Of course not! That is the very last thing you should expect of a proper liberal – not an oxymoronic ‘social liberal’ – and therefore the most constant opponent of a centralised state.

    Also, it was never said that you said the government was more enlightened in the 1980s – only that it was more enlightened. It was never claimed that Margaret Thatcher introduced grants to cover tuition fees – but she did make the deliberate choice to retain them, despite suggestions to the contrary.

    Above all – and this for the third time – the purpose here is not to convince or persuade you of anything but to encourage you to think for yourself.

    The blog post which you quote as ‘history’ is a good sample of the narrow, slogan-ising , sloppy thinking you need to leave behind. Basically it blames Margaret Thatcher for everything except the bad weather this morning! Pathological hatred of Baroness Thatcher was a constant throughout her career – some of us remember ‘Thatcher, Thatcher, milk snatcher’ the first time around – and you have to get the haters out of your head if you are to come to your own fair assessment.

    The Forbes article is a more substantial piece, and illustrates a pattern that occurs time and again. Economic policies take time to work their way through the system. So, when things start to get tough, people start electing right-of-centre governments to sort them out. They do so, but it is in the nature of reform that things get worse before they get better – but then they do get better. Then, when they start to get better, people start-electing left-of-centre governments that let things slide again. That is why the statistics are often better under left-of-centre governments. The Administrations of Messrs Blair and Clinton are remembered as times of prosperity not because of anything those worthies did but because of the tough decisions taken previously under Thatcher-Major and Reagan-Bush respectively.

    Incidentally, you should try to break the habit, all too common in contemporary Wales, of using ‘Tory’ as a term of abuse that you apply to anything. Mr Blair was Leader of the Labour Party. Fact.

    One of the tragedies of Wales is that we have so many intelligent people, especially bright young people, who are determined to see only one side of the coin, and who therefore turn anyone who looks at both sides into caricatures like Gordon ‘Greed Is Good’ Gekko. So they end up with an unbalanced, unrealistic view of the world that blights their lives. You have it in you to be better than that.

  39. John,

    In previous comments you say you prefer minimal government but every time you fail to say how that would work in the real world so I’ve had to guess. So when you say you’d like me to respond to “what was said rather than what you want to think was said” you make it difficult by being so vague. You now say “a minimal government is by its nature the most decentralised form of government.” Again this fails to say how ‘minimal’ government would work and this is now the fifth time you’ve failed to explain. If success was measured by failure you’d be winning!

    The best you’ve been able to come up with is in your comment of 15th June when you say you accept the need for enough government to prevent anarchy, but no more than necessary to prevent anarchy and you also say you object to power being devolved to the Welsh Assembly.

    So presumably you prefer Westminster, a very centralized power system that’s utterly failed Wales, as your preferred option for a ‘minimal’ government to prevent anarchy? Perhaps you need to give more thought to what ‘minimal government’ actually means..

    With regards Margaret Thatcher deliberately wanting to keep student loans, the fact she introduced the Education (Student Loans) Act (26 April 1990) shows she deliberately chose not to keep student loans. Incidentally you say you’re a liberal but not an ‘oxymoronic’ social liberal. However the Liberal Party are social liberals so to suggest the term is an oxymoron is incorrect.

    I think you’re also incorrect to imply I’ve a “pathological hatred” of Margaret Thatcher. Sure I’m angry with her and the anger comes from knowing what Britain could have been with better governments. The list of her failures on the blog link in my last comment was fair. So I’d disagree that the blog link was. narrow, slogan-ising or sloppy thinking. And you are wrong to idolize MT as this damages judgement (Hitler said that the strength of his regime depended on the people having an idol which shows how dangerous it is to idolize a leader).

    When you look at the facts your suggestion regarding right wing governments repairing damage caused by left wing governments is clearly absurd. For example George Bush, a neoliberal free market zealot like yourself, inherited a strong economy from Clinton and at the end of Bush’s eight year tenure we had the massive crash of 2008. The reality is left of centre Governments use Keynes economics which, as the Forbes article suggests, have successfully enriched and improved the lives of the many as opposed to the policies followed by right of centre governments which primarily aim at protecting the rich. An economic system that enriches the many, like Keynes, is bound to get better results because more people stand to benefit.

    Sorry that you find the word ‘Tory’ offensive.. I think you’re a bit over sensitive on that one, as far as I’m aware the Conservative party have never asked that the word not be used

    The real tragedy of the last thirty six years is that enough people have been seduced by those who’ve promoted the failed creed of greed agenda which led to the crash of 2008 And even now, those like you who support neoliberal policies that led to the disastrous crash have still failed to accept they were wrong. I will continue to hope you have it in you to change and campaign and vote for better.

    And at least through devolution some of us in the UK have a better chance of getting policies in place which support a fair and just society, policies which the majority of people in the UK want but fail to get because of our inadequate Westminster ‘first past the post’ electoral system.

  40. Chris, with respect, it does help if you read carefully what you criticise.

    For example, it should have been clear that offence was not taken at the word ‘Tory’ – an honourable term – but, on the contrary, to its application to non-Tory things and persons you happen to dislike, notably Mr Blair.

    Similarly, the previous reference was to tuition fees, not student loans, being rejected by Lady Thatcher. Student loans were introduced initially as a top-up to grants. It was Mr Blair who applied them to tuition fees seven years later.

    Also, it is not ‘idolising’ to challenge irrational hatred.

    In the same way, you create a false opposition between Keynesian economics and those you call neoliberal free market zealots. The fact is that the ‘Clinton Boom’ actually began under Bush the Elder; Clinton kept it overheated – contrary to Keynesian principles – resulting in a slight downturn around the turn of the century, of which the ‘Dot Com Bubble’ was a part. The greatest criticism that can be levelled against Bush the Younger is not that he caused the 2008 crash – practically all economists agree that was the banks – but that he left the US economy in a weaker position to cope with it by running up the federal deficit. Think for a moment what that means: far from being a neoliberal free market zealot, he actually followed policies that most people – inaccurately – describe as Keynesian.

    On the most important element of your last comment, the definition of the minimal state, whole books have been written and a detailed reply to the points you raise would require a fairly long essay. That would be out of place in a comments section, the hospitality of which we have already stretched, so please do not think it is ignoring your opinions if what follows is restricted to a few general observations.

    A minimal state is one that minimises the use of coercive power over its subjects.

    It therefore follows that a state with surplus levels of government with coercive powers is less likely to be minimalist. Devolution is therefore anti-minimalist.

    You keep using the word ‘centralised’ of the UK government. The problem with the word ‘centralised,’ it that it has at least three different meanings: it can mean centralised in the state relative to the subject, centralised in a particular level of government relative to other levels, and centralised within a given level of government.

    The first of those meanings is the most important. The other two matter only in as much as they impact on the first.

    The UK level of government is more inclined to decentralisation in that sense than the Welsh level. The Welsh level is, incidentally, also centralised in the other two senses.

    The Liberal Party abandoned liberalism decades ago and should not be cited as the definition of anything.

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