Crisis for WM school places in Cardiff

 
A couple of days ago I received a copy of a letter from RhAG, the group campaigning for more Welsh-medium education, that has been sent to the Director of Education at Cardiff Council. It goes into some detail about the impending crisis in providing sufficient Welsh-medium places in Cardiff, demonstrated by the surprisingly large number of parents whose children have been refused places at the Welsh-medium school of their choice. As it was also copied to the Education Correspondent of the Western Mail the intention was clearly for it to be made public, but as the Western Mail haven't—or haven't yet—run the story, I thought it would be a good idea to publish it on Syniadau.

 

 
RhAG has expressed its concern generally at the level of refusals on first allocation in relation to September 2015 primary admissions for WM schools, which is at an unprecedentedly high level and which must be attributed to the failure to plan proactively for growth. However RhAG does appreciate that the LA now have to cater for EM growth which was absent from 1995 onwards until about 2 or 3 years ago.

On first allocation, 685 places were given at WM schools to applicants and 110 were refused.

The total number of available WM reception places was a potential of 787 places which realistically would probably cover the 795 who gave a WM school as their first choice having regard to the various events that can change the demand over the 3-4 months between application and allocation. There were therefore probably enough places to meet the demand if one treats the demand and places on a city-wide basis. However it is apparent that there were not enough places to satisfy parental demand for WM primary places as parents want a school which is reasonably close to home, and it is not reasonable to expect a child in Trowbridge to have to travel to Pentwyn, for example.

In fact the first allocation of places was actually lower in number at 685 this year than the 693 allocated at the same stage last year. The number of refusals at 110 is the highest ever and it is more than likely that of those 110 only a small percentage, probably less than 25%, will ultimately find a WM place because the parents will have reluctantly taken an EM place which has the merit of being local even though the child will in 90% of the cases have started in a WM setting in nursery for 1 or 2 years. This is a loss wholly unacceptable to those who have worked hard to persuade parents of the benefits of WM education and have succeeded, only to be frustrated by the inadequacy of the provision, particularly as the increase of the percentage in WM education is Welsh Government policy to which the LA has subscribed by preparing its Welsh in Education Strategic Plan.

RhAG suggest that the city and county of Cardiff must do better next year, by increasing the accessible provision and altering the method of application for and consequent allocation of places.

 
1. INCREASE OF ACCESSIBLE PROVISION

It is apparent that the shortage of places and consequent high level of refusals is localised. In 7 out of 16 catchments there were no refusals or only one. In 4 schools there were refusals above or close to 20 and in another 3 refusals of 8 or 6. To some extent those refused were applicants resident outside the catchment but there were a total of 23 refused who were resident in catchment, and we suspect that some out of catchment applications were made by parents who had every reason to believe that they had no hope of a place in their catchment school.

The following is a review of the schools area by area, suggesting the remedies advocated by RhAG.

a. Far East

In this area the 2 schools are Bro Eirwg and Pen-y-pil, where respectively 8 and 2 children were refused places. We believe that the 2 unsuccessful out-of-catchment pupils at Pen-y-pil were Glan Morfa pupils whose parents believed, correctly, that they would not get in to Glan Morfa after 2 years of 10+ children being refused there. We cannot guess the origin of parents from out of catchment seeking places at Bro Eirwg unless, yet again they lived in the Glan Morfa catchment. Clearly both schools are full and the growing need can only be met by expanding Pen-y-pil to 2 streams.

b. South East

Glan Morfa is overcrowded with demand for the third year exceeding provision. The LA has a plan to meet this need which is for publication at the end of this month which must include a proposal to make additional provision at Reception level in September 2016

c. East Central

Between them Y Berllan Deg and Pen-y-groes can cope with the demand in this area. It would be helpful if the availability of places at Pen-y-groes could be widely advertised.

d. North and North Central

In this area 3 of the 4 schools are under pressure, namely Y Wern, Mynydd Bychan and Melin Gruffydd and the one with spare accommodation Glan Ceubal is really convenient to take overspill only from the southern part of the Melin Gruffydd catchment. The buildings of Melin Gruffydd and Mynydd Bychan are not capable of extension. We suspect that the out-of-catchment demand for Melin Gruffydd comes from parents in the area of Heath south of Heathwood Road who are in the Mynydd Bychan catchment but who have no hope of a place at Mynydd Bychan due to pressure for places from pupils living nearer the school site. As RhAG has repeatedly urged the only sensible thing to do for Mynydd Bychan school is to reduce its catchment so that it serves only Cathays and Little Heath (Y Waun Ddyfal). The rest of Great Heath (MYNYDDBYCHAN i.e. south of Heathwood Rd) should be transferred into the catchment of Y Wern which can be extended to a full 3 FE which will be immediately taken up. The pressure to overspill Heath children into Melin Gruffydd may then be relieved. Glan Ceubal can take overspill from Whitchurch village as well as from the Pencae catchment. We understand why the LA was reluctant to see unfilled places at Y Wern and thus refused RhAG's urging that it be made 3 FE at once but taking this step is the only way of relieving pressure on both MG and Mb which is evident from this year's figures.

e. Far North West

Creigiau and Gwaelod-y-garth are both just full. Further growth can be expected and we urge the LA to close the small EM provision at Gwaelod-y-garth and transfer it to Pentyrch which used to have spare capacity.

f. West

Two of the three schools here (Pencae and Nant Caerau) are oversubscribed but cannot be expanded on their sites. Pencae suffers from being adjacent to a major place of Welsh employment and is a convenient place to take out-of-catchment children (20 refusals of out-of-catchment children; a repetition of last year). However the LA should have regard to the proposal for housing to take the place of the BBC studios which will further increase the demand at Pencae. The developers will need to provide a 2 stream WM school to replace Pencae. Nant Caerau serves an area with a different demographic. Last year 10 children were refused places at NC; this year 21 of which 7 were in catchment (we imagine that the other 14 were from Ely also very local for whom there are only 11 places at Coed-y-gof, the catchment school). Something must be done to expand the buildings available to Nant Caerau. RhAG accepts that expansion cannot be on site. The possibilities are:

     1. Part of Glyn Derw
     2. New build on Ely Mill where the county has s106 rights
     3. At Michaelston when Michaelston moves out onto the Glyn Derw site.

There are currently 11 vacant places at Coed-y-gof which are likely to be filled by:

     1. Ely children refused at Nant Caerau
     2. 20 out of catchment children at Pencae
     3. The usual late applicants.

The total of the above is more than the number of vacant places. Does Coed-y-gof need a third stream?

g. South Central

Here we have 2 existing schools and the new Grangetown/Butetown school for which starter provision is to be made in the buildings formerly occupied by Tan-yr-Eos. At Treganna 16 have been refused who can be offered places at Tan-y-Eos. The total of applications in the Four Wards so far this year seems to be 161 but we would expect some of those refused at Pencae to opt for Pwll Coch. (We are aware of one child resident on the east of Cathedral Road and thus in the Pencae catchment who is likely to do this) We would urge that there be provision to accept 60 at Tan-yr-Eos in 2016 next year, having regard to the magnetic effect of a new Welsh-medium school which the new school will be.

 
2. APPLICATION METHOD

RhAG would urge that the LA in its literature for new parents highlight the difficulty of matching schools to children precisely, warning parents that if they want to choose WM education and have started a child in a Nursery class then it would be wise not only to choose one WM school but also a second to enable the council to meet demand with some flexibility. An effort should be made to avoid presenting a parent with a choice of one local WM school or a local EM school. If a WM school has been the first choice the LA should not couple a refusal of a WM place with the offer of an EM place but rather should indicate that another WM place is available which should not be an impossible journey away. Only in this way will the council fulfil its duty to promote the growth of WM education.

RhAG has expressed its concern at one aspect in particular of the admissions this year, which is its failure to honour the sibling link priority for admission to primary school.

The aspect of particular concern is the total of 8 applications refused in spite of the existence of a sibling link, a link which normally gives a high priority to the applicant which derives from the county's own rules, dating back to 1985 after the case of R v South Glamorgan County Council, ex p Evans 1984.

RhAG fails to understand why the sibling link now been ignored in 8 cases, 5 in Nant Caerau, 2 in Mynydd Bychan and 1 in Glan Morfa. RhAG has been made aware of a serious consequence of these refusals of places to children who were in the Nursery Class with parents having already been in touch with some schools to say that they will be withdrawing the elder children as they cannot face the complications of having children in 2 different schools, a consequence which the LA should have foreseen. RhAG is yet to receive explanation for the authority's failure to comply with its own long-standing rules and offer a proposal to rectify what has been done by offering places to all 8 children in the near future.

 
Ceri Owen
Cyfarwyddwr Datblygu / Director of Development
Rhieni Dros Addysg Gymraeg
Parents for Welsh Medium Education

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Parity with Scotland?

There are many things to criticize Plaid Cymru for, but the one thing that has disturbed me most is in fact the central plank of their election campaign: namely that they want parity with Scotland both in terms of devolved powers and in terms of funding.

I don't have a particular problem with parity of devolved powers because, as things stand, our National Assembly has fewer powers than the Scottish Parliament, and therefore parity would be a practical first step. I would only qualify this by saying that I wouldn't want the powers of the Scottish Parliament to act as a limit. To give one example: it looks likely that powers to set the rate of Corporation Tax will be devolved to the Six Counties, but not to Scotland. Therefore I would want Wales to have this power too, irrespective of whether or not Scotland gets it.

For me, the principle is that I want everything that is currently decided at Westminster to be decided by our National Assembly ... in other words, independence.

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But I do have a very big problem with the idea that Wales should get parity of funding with Scotland. And I am frankly amazed that Plaid Cymru has abandoned its previous position of wanting fair funding for Wales, and now wants something that is patently unfair.

Of course I understand why and how it happened, but that doesn't excuse Plaid's behaviour. The Holtham Commission did a good piece of work, demonstrating that Wales was underfunded relative to need on the basis of an objective formula. At that time, the block grant to the National Assembly fell short of what we would get by applying this needs-based formula by roughly £300m a year. This was set to get worse because of the Barnett Squeeze, but in fact has not got worse because cuts in public expenditure have put the Squeeze into reverse. However the shortfall will increase again when public expenditure starts to rise over the next few years.

Because of this shortfall, coupled with general discontent with the way Barnett worked anyway with regard to Scotland, there seemed to be consensus among all the parties in the Assembly (the Tories, Labour and LibDems as well as Plaid Cymru) that Barnett had reached the end of its working life and needed to be replaced. The problem is that just before the Scottish independence referendum, those three Unionist parties panicked in the face of closer than expected opinion polls, and made a vow to retain Barnett.

It was at this point that Plaid Cymru panicked ... with the result that they came up with a policy to demand the same amount of funding per head as Scotland gets. Of course not all public spending in Scotland is channelled through the Scottish Parliament (for example most benefits and pensions are paid directly to individuals and families) but if the same "block grant per head" were paid to our National Assembly as is paid to the Scottish Parliament it would indeed, after making allowance for different devolved functions, result in Wales getting something like an additional £1.2bn in block grant.

Now what's wrong with that? Well, to put it bluntly, any child could see what's wrong with it. Why pick Scotland? Why not pick England instead and demand that Wales gets a block grant equivalent to the same level of funding per head as England? Simple, because if Plaid Cymru picked England, Wales would get much less of a block grant than we do now. In other words, picking Scotland is a blatantly biased choice. If the principle you adopt is equal spending per head, then that has to apply across the whole of the United Kingdom—which, by the way, is UKIP's policy—it cannot be applied selectively.

In effect what Plaid Cymru are doing is asking English taxpayers to give Wales much more than we need on any objective basis, and very much more than they give themselves. It is a wicked and stupid idea, and I have to say I'm very glad that I am no longer associated with a party that can come up with something that can only be described as a total perversion of any concept of either fairness or reason.

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In principle there are some very basic rules about how to redistribute funding between different parts of a state. We need to consider two things: how much each part of the state produces in terms of tax revenue, and how much each part of the state needs. One sum will be usually be higher than the other, and an equitable funding formula must be somewhere between the two. It cannot be outside that range.

A needs-based formula on its own will not work because, as the Holtham Commission noted, if it were applied to Scotland, it would result in Scotland getting maybe £4bn a year less in block grant than it does now. However that does not mean that Scotland is over-funded, because Scotland provides more per head in tax revenue to the Treasury than most other parts of the UK. In Scotland's case, the proportion of tax revenue it contributes to the Treasury is more than its relative needs, therefore it is right that Scotland gets more than it needs.

But in the case of Wales, what we produce in tax revenue per head is quite a bit lower than other parts of the UK, and the sum is also lower than what we objectively need, based on the formula used by Holtham (which, by the way, is based on the way money is distributed by departments within England). It is therefore reasonable and justified to say that Wales deserves more money, but only as much as will bring us up towards what we objectively need ... not more than that. To ask for or expect more is nothing but greed. Yet this is what Plaid Cymru have sunk to. It's sickening and shameful.

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It's also deceitful, because it is undeliverable. As I showed in the last post, even if the SNP win upwards of 50 seats on Thursday, they will not get to determine the direction of government. The same would be just as true if Plaid Cymru won 35 seats in Wales. 533 English MPs will never vote to give Wales more than it either contributes to the Treasury or needs.

That's not to say that there are other aspects of the way Wales is funded that can't be improved. In addition to the £300m shortfall in the block grant (or whatever it now is when the Holtham formula is applied) we can rightly call for our fair share of infrastructure investment so that, for example, Wales gets a pro-rata share of rail infrastructure investment or research funding relative to the rest of the UK. But we must make a reasoned and rational case for this, and we weaken any case we make if we, at the same time, are making unreasonable and irrational demands.

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In closing, I would also ask people to consider, in practical terms, what the result of getting more money from England than we either need or contribute to the Treasury would be. How on earth would it help us stand on our own two feet as a nation? It would simply tie us closer into dependency on England. Yet this is party policy ... from a party that supposedly wants independence! Perhaps, under better leadership, Plaid Cymru might become a party that is worth voting for again ... but it certainly isn't worth voting for them now.

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Cockroaches, Kingmakers

The LibDems are rightly, though not flatteringly, characterized as the cockroaches of UK politics. Very hard to eradicate. Even when we might think we've got rid of them, they survive. Their overall share of the vote will certainly fall in this election, but I do not think the LibDems will do as badly as the pundits suggest in terms of seats. The average prediction at the moment is in the high 20s, but I think they'll get more than 30.

In Wales, I think Mark Williams will hold on to Ceredigion. The number one reason not to vote for the LibDems has always been tuition fees, but in any fight between the LibDems and Plaid Cymru (and Ceredigion is the only such fight) I don't think people will have forgotten that the Plaid Cymru leadership, against the wishes of the membership, broke exactly the same election promise when they introduced tuition fees in Wales after going into coalition with Labour in 2007. The details are here. I am fairly sure that the LibDems will lose Cardiff Central to Labour, but am less sure about the Tories being able to take Brecon and Radnorshire. However that is a side issue, in this post I want to concentrate on the UK-wide picture.

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The other thing that marks out the LibDems is that they are prepared get into bed with either the Tories or with Labour. Indeed they have made this central to their campaign with their rather self-important idea of acting as the Tories' heart or Labour's brain. This will make them pivotal in determining who forms the next Westminster government. As I hope to show in this post, it is actually quite irrelevant how well other parties perform, because even though the SNP, the Greens and Plaid Cymru might win twice as many seats as the LibDems, these parties have sidelined themselves by refusing to have anything to do with the Tories.

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Who the LibDems get into bed with will depend on the electoral arithmetic. But I think the number of seats the other parties get will work out in such a way that they will have a choice about who they support ... and I think they will choose to do a deal with Labour.

A coalition with the Tories would mean we get a continuation of what we've had for the past five years. But a coalition with Labour would be better for the LibDems in several ways: it would help remove the toxicity of the past five years and might lead to them re-gaining previous left-leaning LibDem supporters; it would show the public at large that they can be in government (and therefore be relevant) in a tight election irrespective of which main party gets the most seats; and, most importantly, it would mean that there won't be a referendum on leaving the EU.

The problem, however, is one of perceived legitimacy. Will they be able to get away with doing a deal with Labour, especially if the Tories get more seats than Labour? This will depend on the arithmetic.

Assuming no abstentions, any potential government would need to get about 322 to survive a vote of confidence, because of the Speaker and Sinn Fein. So if the Tories got 290 and came to a coalition agreement with the LibDems on 35, that 325 would just be sufficient. On these numbers, it would actually be very difficult for the LibDems to avoid this, because they have said that they consider themselves duty-bound to talk to the party that gets the most seats first. But I don't think the Tories (or Tories and LibDems together) will get that many seats.

If the LibDems really wanted to go into coalition with the Tories, their combined total could, at a pinch, go down to 315, bolstered by an agreement (not a coalition) with the DUP (say 8 seats) and the fact that UKIP (say 3 seats) would not vote against it, because a Tory-led government is the only way they would get the referendum on EU membership they want more than anything else. But because the LibDems don't really want another coalition with the Tories, they should be able to shy away from such an arrangement, claiming that it would be unstable.

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In contrast, the electoral arithmetic for a coalition between Labour and the LibDems is quite different. This is because any potential opposition to such a coalition would be divided. It is all but impossible to imagine the Tories, UKIP and the DUP voting in the same way as the so-called "progressive alliance" of the SNP, Greens and Plaid Cymru. The opposition on the left would always cancel out the opposition on the right. The Tories would, on principle and as we would expect, always vote against a Labour/LibDem coalition government in any vote of confidence; but, more critically, the SNP and Plaid Cymru could not vote against it because the only alternative would be a Tory-led government. The numbers mean they would probably be able to abstain, but I'm sure they would hold their noses and vote for the Labour/LibDem coalition if they had to.

For this reason, a Labour/LibDem coalition would not need to get 322 seats between them. They could govern as a minority with a surprisingly low number of seats. Indeed the more seats the SNP, Greens and Plaid win, the smaller the combined total of Labour and LibDem MPs would need to be. The only problem is one of perceived legitimacy, for it would be very hard to avoid an outcry if the combined total of Labour and LibDem MPs were less than the number of Tory MPs.

I think the Tories will be the largest party in the Commons with between 280 and 285 seats. But if the combined number of Labour and LibDem seats is more than this, they will form the next government. This means that Labour only need to get 255 or so seats on Thursday ... something that I think they'll manage quite comfortably. In fact I think they'll get about 270.

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The hard truth for those who support the SNP, Greens and Plaid Cymru is that they will, in effect, get no say in who forms the next Westminster government. Labour and the LibDems will be able to ignore them, because the only way they could have any influence would be by siding with the Tories ... and it would be electoral suicide for them to do so.

Perhaps they will be able to exercise some influence on some individual issues over the next five years, but it will be a game of brinkmanship that they will have to play very carefully if they are to avoid accusations from Labour that they are siding with the Tories.

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The big question is what the LibDems are going to demand in return for choosing Labour. As I see it, there's hardly any difference between Labour and the LibDems in terms of austerity, and therefore the only thing that really matters in the long term is changing the electoral system. It is worth remembering that Labour offered changing to the Alternative Vote without a referendum in the negotiations following the 2010 election55. I think the LibDems made a huge mistake by not taking up this offer, for even if that government were to have proved unstable, the following election would be that much fairer.

That offer cannot be made now because AV was overwhelmingly rejected in the 2011 referendum and that decision cannot be ignored. But, paradoxically, that defeat might help. We need to remember that AV is not a proportional system, and an element of proportionality is what we need. My preference will always be for STV, largely because it puts choice of who is elected in the hands of voters rather than parties; but the additional member system is not such a bad second best. What matters is the number of additional members compared with the number of constituency members. If, as in our National Assembly, the number is low (20 additional members and 40 constituency members) there is still a considerable degree of first-past-the-post bias. But if, as in the Scottish Parliament, the number is higher (56 additional members and 73 constituency members) the number of seats more closely reflects the number of votes cast ... although not completely, for in the 2011 election the SNP achieved an absolute majority of seats with only 44% of the vote.

More by luck than judgement the LibDems are now going to be given a second chance to introduce the electoral reform they have always claimed to stand for. It would be unforgivable for them to squander it again.

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The final word on policing in Wales

One of the areas recommend for devolution to the Assembly by the Silk Commission was policing. However not all of the four parties in the Assembly agreed with this, and therefore it was not included in the St David's Day package announced by Stephen Crabb earlier this year.

Plaid Cymru and the LibDems want to see policing devolved to Wales. And so of course do the Greens, who want Wales to have the same devolved powers as Scotland. But the Tories are opposed, and Labour sit awkwardly (to my mind at least) between the two. Labour's manifesto says:

Policing

Labour is committed to bringing policing closer to people and the communities where they live.

That is why the next UK Labour Government will devolve to the Welsh Government the powers to shape the priorities for policing in Wales. This would give the Welsh people a greater say over how they are policed and improve integration with the other emergency services, which are already devolved to Wales, such as the ambulance and fire service.

Under Labour, Welsh Ministers would have the power to draw up an All Wales Policing Plan, setting the priorities for Welsh policing, including governance structures, in consultation with the Home Secretary. This will ensure alignment between all of the emergency services in Wales, while maintaining vital crossborder collaboration and co-ordination.

Through investing to deliver 500 extra Community Support Officers, Welsh Labour Government has shown a commitment to community safety, these new powers would allow a future Welsh government greater opportunity to build on that commitment.

2015 Welsh Labour Manifesto

So what exactly does this mean? There was a Home Affairs debate this afternoon on BBC2. The full programme is here, but in this extract from it Labour's Shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper, shed some light on Labour's intentions.

     

The first thing to note is that what Labour is proposing is ambiguous. Andrew Neil was under the impression that Labour wanted to devolve policing to Wales, and I'm sure that Labour would be quite happy if voters in Wales were left with that impression too. But it isn't quite what Labour are saying.

The idea is that the Welsh Government is able to draw up a policing plan for Wales, but would need to discuss that plan with the Home Secretary in Westminster.

I don't think there is any real problem with placing the Welsh Government under an obligation to consult with the Home Secretary in Westminster about policing. There are many cross-border issues which properly need to be addressed. But the real, and unanswered, question is who gets to finalize and implement the plan.

Although it isn't spelt out, Labour's intention might well be that ultimate power over policing in Wales will remain with the Home Secretary in Westminster who would, at his or her discretion, decide whether to implement any Policing Plan either in full, in part, or not at all. As such, it would be uncannily like Labour's previous idea for Legislative Competence Orders under the GoWA 2006, which proved to be so unworkable that the whole idea had to be dropped even though Labour thought that the system would last for a generation.

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I wonder if Labour really have thought this through properly. Just like with LCOs, the proposal might just be made to work if there were Labour governments in both Cardiff and Westminster; but if the two Governments were led by different parties, then it would be highly unlikely that any plan would or could be agreed or implemented. However there's always the possibility that this is exactly what Labour intend. Perhaps this proposal is designed to ensure that only Labour's ideas on policing can be implemented in Wales because, barring a political earthquake, Labour are the only party that could realistically lead governments in both Cardiff and Westminster. But, if so, it is very short-sighted.

As always, there are two competing factions within the Labour Party in Wales: those, mainly the MPs, who are very reticent about devolution; and those, mainly the AMs, who want to see more devolution. The wording of the manifesto pledge might therefore be deliberately ambiguous about the crucial issue of whether the Welsh Ministers or the UK Government gets the final say in the event of any disagreement.

I would urge Labour to think about the consequences of getting this wrong. Even if Labour get to lead the next Westminster government after these elections, they will in five or ten years' time be replaced by a Tory-led government at Westminster as surely as night follows day. So if the final say on policing rests with the Home Secretary in Westminster, then all Labour's plans for policing in Wales could be undone in an instant by a future Tory Home Secretary. Yes, it is not unreasonable to require statutory consultation between the Welsh Ministers and the Home Secretary in drawing up any formal policing plan for Wales; but in the event of disagreement, it must be the Welsh Ministers who make the final decisions about policing in Wales. A clear statement about this from Labour would be very welcome.

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Question marks over Plaid's policies

A couple of weeks ago, Leanne Wood was on a BBC3 programme called Free Speech, facing an audience of people aged 16-34. The full programme is here, but I want to concentrate on this question about badgers:

     

It might be worth reminding people about the context of the question. The badger cull was a key part of the policy to control Bovine TB introduced by Elin Jones as Minister for Rural Affairs during the One Wales Labour-Plaid coalition between 2007 and 2011.

A number of legal challenges were made, but Elin was determined to press ahead with the cull. After several legal hurdles were overcome, the policy was eventually declared lawful in a judicial review in April 2010, but the Badger Trust was given leave to appeal a few months later, and uncertainty over the outcome coupled with the looming Assembly elections meant that although plans were made for it to go ahead, the cull was never implemented.

The election in 2011 resulted in Labour being able to govern Wales without having to rely on Plaid Cymru support. One of the first things they did was put the cull on hold pending a review of the scientific evidence. Plaid's criticism of this decision was fierce. Elin Jones called the decision a "slap in the face" for farmers, and said to John Griffiths, the new minister: "In your first act you've let farmers down."

Towards the end of 2011, following the announcement that the Tory-led government in Westminster was to go ahead with a badger cull in England, Plaid's new spokesperson on Rural Affairs, Llyr Huws Gruffydd, again re-iterated that Plaid's policy in favour of a badger cull had not changed, saying:

“This announcement is another severe embarrassment for the Labour Welsh Government and highlights its policy of inactivity.

“With a Plaid Cymru Minister in the previous Welsh Government, Wales had a comprehensive Bovine TB eradication plan. Now under Labour, eradication plans are on hold and the Minister is refusing to say what, if anything, he intends to do about this massive problem for our rural areas."

Plaid Cymru Statement, 14 December 2011

The scientific review concluded that vaccination was a better option that culling, and John Griffiths announced that the cull would not go ahead in March 2012. But, even so, Plaid Cymru still maintained that culling was necessary. This was Llyr Huws Gruffydd's response:

"The Labour minister has displayed blind ignorance by disregarding the scientific evidence, and all because he has to fall in line with Labour's new policy in London. Wales is now swimming against the tide of scientific evidence that has seen England adopt a culling policy, with Northern Ireland also moving in that direction."

Guardian, 20 March 2012

Elin Jones' response was even more revealing: it was personal, petulant and irresponsible. In fact, it would probably be construed as an incitement for farmers to break the law:

"Farmers will now have to decide how best to protect their cattle and I for one would not blame them for anything they do."

BBC, 20 March 2012

So it should be perfectly clear that Plaid Cymru's policy has been to cull badgers, even after a review of the scientific evidence had concluded that vaccination was a better option that culling.

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So how is it possible to reconcile these facts with what Leanne Wood has just said in the video clip above?

She said that Plaid had "moved on" because there were now better alternatives to culling. But, as we can see from the evidence above, even after the scientific review had concluded that vaccination was a better option than culling, Plaid was still in favour of culling.

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I think this highlights how deep-rooted Plaid Cymru's problems are when it comes to formulating what their policy on any issue is, and then how to communicate that policy to the public at large.

An anecdote might help. A few years ago I attended the Plaid Cymru Summer School at Bala. One of the sessions was on tricky policy issues and was headed by Nerys Evans, who was Plaid's Director of Policy. The emphasis was not on stating, let alone explaining, what party policy was. In fact, it was often far from clear what Plaid's policy was even to the hard-core activists who go to an event like a Summer School. Instead the emphasis seemed to be on being able to give what I can only call a "sweet" answer to the interviewer or member of the public who might ask an awkward question. Something that showed you understood their concern and agreed with it, rather than run the risk of alienating them by giving an answer that they might not like.

As I got to move among the leadership over my years in Plaid, I came to realize that this attitude pervades the leadership of the party; and I think this, more than anything else, explains why Plaid are so inconsistent when it comes to tricky policy issues. The answer that anyone in a position of leadership gives at any time is tailored to suit the people they are addressing. In extreme cases, it results in people giving two different and opposite answers to the same question depending on who they are talking to – but more usually it results in people giving an answer that suits them and which they personally feel comfortable with, simply because they would find it too awkward to go out on a limb and defend a policy they might not agree with or which they thought the people they were talking to might not agree with.

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I found this attitude disappointing and increasingly annoying. For me, what is important is what Plaid Cymru's policy on any issue actually is, and why it is what it is. So, on the particular issue of badger culling, I'd want to know whether they are for or against it. Any straight question deserves an objective, and consistent, answer.

I've now done some fairly thorough research, and I cannot find anything that would indicate that Plaid Cymru had or has changed its policy on culling badgers. It may well be the case that Plaid has now reversed its policy, but if the party has indeed made a U-turn of such magnitude (bearing in mind how fervently they were once in favour of culling and how viciously they castigated Labour for cancelling the cull) they owed it to their membership and, more importantly, to the public at large to first say that they had changed their policy and then explain why they had done so. A professional party would surely have issued a statement or press release to that effect. It would have been headline news.

But they didn't. What Leanne said in the video clip above is, so far as I can ascertain, the first indication of any change.

And this raises a rather disturbing possibility. Given Plaid's track record on tricky policy issues, I have to say that it is just as likely that the party's policy on culling badgers was never changed, and that Leanne was simply giving an answer that she thought would go down well with the audience she happened to be addressing. To put it bluntly, that she thought giving a "sweet" answer was more important for Plaid's electoral chances at this election than telling the truth.

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Left out of it

This picture shows a very isolated Ed Miliband.

    

But, given Labour's position on the political spectrum, it might be better to say he was right out of it.

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Voting against austerity

The latest YouGov poll for ITV Cymru Wales provides, as always, some very useful information about the state of the parties in Wales. This time round, it was quite startling to see that Plaid Cymru's overall support for the upcoming Westminster election has fallen to 10%, but that support for the Greens in Wales has risen by 3% points to 8%, putting them within touching distance of Plaid.

Plaid Cymru's response to this was to launch into an unabashed love-bombing campaign aimed at Green Party supporters in Wales, and what better person to do it than Dafydd Wigley. This is what he said to Adrian Masters.

     

Unsurprisingly, I agree entirely with the idea that the Green Party is the best party to support in England, after all, I've been advocating that for years. But, as Adrian noted, the second part of Plaid's agenda is to ask people in Wales who might be inclined to vote for the Greens to vote for Plaid Cymru instead ... and, as Dafydd admitted, he would be delighted if they did.

The problem is that neither he nor the other leaders of Plaid Cymru have thought things through clearly enough.

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Plaid's biggest electoral problem is that their support in Wales is disproportionately concentrated in just some parts of Wales. Yes, given the unfair nature of the first-past-the-post voting system, Dafydd is right to say that it would make sense for Green voters in the parts of Wales where Plaid is strong to consider voting for Plaid. But, by that same logic, the opposite is true in those parts of Wales where Plaid has now become weaker than the Greens.

For although the headline voting intention in the YouGov poll for Wales as a whole puts Plaid marginally ahead of the Greens, we just need to look at the regional breakdown to see that in some parts of Wales Plaid is now a very poor second behind the Greens. In South Wales Central (which includes Cardiff) support for the Greens is now double the support for Plaid Cymru.

Westminster Voting Intention

All Wales ... Plaid 10% ... Greens 8%

North Wales ... Plaid 9% ... Greens 6%
Mid and West Wales ... Plaid 19% ... Greens 6%
South Wales West ... Plaid 10% ... Greens 6%
South Wales Central ... Plaid 6% ... Greens 12%
South Wales East ... Plaid 5% ... Greens 8%

YouGov Poll for ITV Cymru Wales, 27 January 2015

Obviously things will vary on a constituency by constituency basis. But in general terms, if the Greens, the SNP and Plaid Cymru are to make any inroads in May as a group of parties working together to oppose the austerity agenda that the Tories, Labour and LibDems have each signed up to, then it is better for those who would normally be inclined to vote for Plaid in South Wales Central and South Wales East to vote Green instead. The same is probably true for those in the eastern half of the North Wales electoral region.

The logic of what Dafydd was saying is perfectly valid. He and the rest of the Plaid leadership just hadn't looked carefully enough at the detail.

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