From the Senedd


by Simon Thomas,  AM for Mid and West Wales

Have you bought or sold a house near a proposed railway line recently? In receipt of a large bank bonus and looking for land to buy? If so, you are either a) Secretary of State Cheryl Gillan, b) someone whose name rhymes with “fester” or c) playing Monopoly with your children. Whatever your situation, you may be interested to know that this week the Assembly heard from one of its more thoughtful members, Mark Drakeford (I declare an interest, I used to be his opposite number in the One Wales government) regarding the virtues of a land value tax.

This week was actually quite a good one for backbenchers. I won’t promote my own debate on “how Wales can pay its way” too much here. You can find it here though you may be surprised to know that with a bit of ambition and will, Wales could be a much richer, more sustainable nation. But as well as these two fascinating backbench debates, we also got a backbench Bill, promoted by Peter Black, to tackle the problem of rogue park home owners. Park home owners are often retired people and some unscrupulous landowners use the outdated current legislation to bully them into selling homes cheaply or rip them off with extortionate extra tariffs on the energy they use. Reform is overdue and I wish Peter Black’s Bill well. It was supported unanimously on its introduction.

Meanwhile the Government itself drifts on. I asked Health Minister Lesley Griffiths what message she would have for the people of mid Wales who are so concerned about the proposals to change hospital services at Bronglais, and got an answer of unremitting management-speak that talked about “levels of engagement” and “going along to public meetings and make their views clear”. Labour claim credit to creating the NHS. I am amazed that they are happy to see £5 billion of public money spent each year by the Health Boards without any political direction at all.

I am not surprised that a recent poll found only 6% supported Labour’s economic policies. They seem to be all over the shop. I asked the First Minster this week if sticking to the Westminster government’s cuts programme would keep Wales in recession, he said it would; so why is Miliband and Balls pursuing precisely that strategy? I later asked him about public sector workers. He said he didn’t want a regional benefits cap. The very next day, Liam Byrne flatly contradicted Carwyn Jones and said the Welsh Government agreed with the need for regional caps.

It’s hard to take Welsh Labour seriously when they launch a 5 point plan for economic recovery and 41/2 of those points are outside their control. It’s hard to take Labour seriously when their only achieved delivery is confusion on economic strategy.

More positively, this week I helped launch an all-party group on the Welsh language and attended the all-party group for beer and the pub, where brewers made it clear that a minimum price on alcohol would not affect sensible alcohol use in Wales but where they also made clear their concerns around illegal and dangerous alcohol in many of our communities.

Some of you may know that I am one of the contenders for the leadership of Plaid Cymru. Meeting members all over Wales is great fun and whoever wins will be the unambiguous leader of the party. Pity then poor Andrew Davies, leader of the Tory Assembly group but not of the Tories in Wales. His tentative suggestion that maybe the Tories need a Welsh leader (they currently have at least three different one which meant their last manifesto had three different introductions) was dismissed by Cheryl Gillam as an “irritation”. Irritations are of course what produce pearls from oysters. I am sure the next leader of Plaid Cymru will be a pearl in the murky oyster bed of Welsh politics.