2012 Review

A brief and thoroughly one-sided look back at the year with extracts taken from this blog.

The year began with Plaid’s policy review and leadership contest. Outwardly, the event seemed less of a defining moment for the Party of Wales than a membership drive opportunity.  As the nationalists geared themselves up for changes at the top, Welsh tories did the same. The cancellation of their Spring conference was seen as presaging the exit of Cheryl Gillan – this turned out to be was a little premature.

The AWEMA debacle began to unravel with conformation that the racial equality group took their lead from the Welsh Government when it came to appalling stewardship of public funds.

Police confirmed that a file had been sent to the CPS on the alleged misdeeds of Lib Dems & tories on Swansea Council over a votes for road deal. Class warriors occupied a city centre hotel – but if you’re going to squat then you want the necessary amenities dontchya?

AWEMA was terminated whilst the Welsh government was caught elsewhere with its hands in the expense account with published details that included a set of picture frames costing £276, training courses provided by a Swedish company at a cost of more than £13,000 and fingerless gloves bought for £7.50.

Comparisons abounded between Wales and England. The Welsh Affairs Committee thought Cardiff Bay could up its game by reinstating the WDA. David Cameron handed out harsh words about the Welsh NHS over its performance - although he failed to invite professional organisations along to discuss his own controversial reforms.

At Swansea Council, it looked likely that another 'super-event' promoted by the authority's spin corps was about to go over handlebarsCriticism was muted although it was purely coincidental that it happened the same week it was revealed that senior local government officers were now able to call upon financial support from their councils to pursue libel actions against complainants.

Leanne Wood was elected as Plaid Cymru’s new leader. The result was widely welcomed although the ‘Ides’ aspect turned out to be mildly prophetic in terms of future support from Baron Hardup (of Meirionnydd).

David Cameron was forced to fess up to making use of ‘facilities’ at riding stables owned by close friends Rebekah and Charlie Brooks. It was a welcome distraction from sustained criticism over the government proposals for a Granny Tax.

Tory party co-treasurer Peter Cruddas became the latest to find that the press had lost none of its pre-Leveson skillset when it came to outing bent political figures. Cash for access outrage was followed by industry claims that the ConDem government was indulging in self-inflicted insanity over a threatened fuel strike.

Yet it was George Galloway who got the backing of Bradford’s voters and derailed Labour’s comeback plans.

Locally, Lib Dem claims that Swansea had achieved second spot in the recycling table on their watch were effectively rubbished by official figures.

There was an air of anticipation tinged with panic as local government elections loomed. Plans for a new gypsy site in Swansea were temporarily shelved and Peter Black found himself backtracking on earlier ill-judged claims that Welsh Government officials were politically biased – an ironic allegation given that one of his own staff had gone independent.

Fallout from the Leveson enquiry enveloped Jeremy Hunt. The culture secretary got David Cameron’s backing in the Commons but Nick Clegg developed a tactical stiff neck. It was unclear if he would try the same strategy with party activists opposed to plans for online monitoring.

It was a miserable month for the Lib Dem leader who also saw his party’s flagship reform of the House of Lords arbitrarily put on the back-burner by the tories. Few in Wales thought that Leanne Wood’s proposal for a United Welsh Alternative stood any more chance of realisation but the view was that she had effectively set out her stall. Baron Hardup notwithstanding.

Opinion was divided among MPs looking into the shady nature of Rupert Murdoch’s media dealings. A select committee delivered a majority report. Labour’s Tom Watson got a leg up within his party for his sterling work whilst tory member Louise Mensch also got better offer.

Local election results saw Lib Dems put on the endangered list as a political species. Losers blamed national trends. The outgoing top man at Swansea held true to his own peculiar outlook on things by attributing his downfall to “social websites”, among other factors. Meanwhile, Google was getting stick for a different reason.

Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt was feeling the heat over the extent of his arms-length entanglements with News Corps. This prompted Downing Street spin-champion Craig Oliver to give BBC Norman Smith some advice on balanced reporting - and get caught on camera for his troubles.

Lib Dem bloggers in Swansea made a very brief comeback and Sticky Dick Lewis made an even briefer one before his nomination for chairmanship was finally rejected.

ConDems faced a fresh barrage of problems which included sleaze allegations, a forced u-turn on charity tax and Rowan Williams describing David Cameron's Big Society initiative as "aspirational waffle".

Plaid AM Bethan Jenkins found herself on the fringe after criticising Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness over his meeting with the Queen during a royal visit to Belfast. Dayfydd Ellis-Thomas found himself on the carpet for disloyal conduct.

Labour in Swansea were drip-feeding examples of profligacy by their Lib Dem predecessors to the local press. The new council leader announced a flagship policy of tackling poverty and then awarded a paid cabinet post to his newly elected wife.

Cameron called on tory rebels to rethink their widely reported opposition to Lords reform whilst Nick Clegg’s endorsed Peter Hain’s barrage proposals. Both interventions were viewed as the kiss of death.

This was a month for politicians attempting to find the mainstream and then falling in. Treasury minister David Gauke told reporters that cash-in-hand payments were 'morally wrong'. Aidan Burley objected to the rampant multi-culturalism Olympics opening ceremony. The pair were to discover that they had seriously misjudged public opinion.

Health policy dominated the Welsh political scene. Serious doubt was cast on the ‘independence’ of an independent report into the need to reconfigure hospital services. Welsh tories were unsure of the actual details but were just glad that their leadership had at least moved on from questioning the cost of ring-binders.

Plaid announced that Dafydd Ellis-Thomas would go unpunished for his criticism of Leanne Wood’s leadership. Swansea’s Lib Dems were forced into more dramatic action when their former PPC was nicked for assaulting his elderly mum.

It wasn’t exactly silly season but it came close. A Carmarthen councillor was castigated for seeming to advocate prostitution on Twitter whilst a group of right-wing Conservative MPs claimed that British workers are "among the worst idlers in the world". (The MPs had just begun a nine week recess).

Tit for tat coalition politics took on a new impetus as Nick Clegg withdrew support for constituency boundary changes in retaliation for sabotaged Lords reform. He also stated that ‘emergency measures’ are needed to get the economy out of its current deep-rooted malaise but no-one took him seriously – including Danny Alexander who had been left out at the briefing.

Attention turned to the polls. Plaid saw a drop in support whilst UKIP seemed to be getting a boost. For the government, a post-Olympic feelgood factor failed to register.  Two thirds of electors told a YouGov/Sun survey that the ConDems were running the economy badly.

The relentless business of ministers announcing u-turns policy revisions underwent a brief hiatus as the Westminster village digested reshuffle details. Cameron’s good works were overshadowed however when Andrew Mitchell tried to exit Downing Street via the main gate one murky evening.

The role of the regional press in Wales was under much discussion again. Some commented on a perceptible dumbing down as more journalists jumped ship from press to public sector jobs. Others spoke of tensions in places like Carmarthen which would later overspill into outright hostilities. In other news, as they say, the Western Mail was scandalised to learn that Leanne Wood and Bethan Jenkins had taken a republican oath in a Cardiff bar.

The pressing need to say something fresh from the conference podium caused a few managerial hiccups among most parties. Nick Clegg got a little confused about the role of newly appointed Wales Office junior minister Baroness Randerson. Lib Dem AMs were understandably uncomfortable explaining away the colonial implications of how a member of an unelected chamber would be concentrating on education. Most pundits were more interested in some chap called David Jones anyway.

A number of people were left wondering if something had been lost in translation on reading how Plaid Cymru planned to boost its electoral popularity by restricting tuition fee grants to those students attending Welsh universities.

David Cameron managed to leave his own energy secretary out of the loop when he announced a new system of tariff controls guaranteeing cheaper costs. This commitment was later ‘amended’. Labour leader Ed Miliband did some backtracking of his own after being seen to imply that phone hacking by the Daily Mirror was a lesser sin.

Wales Audit Office report into failings at AWEMA slammed the Welsh government's financial and governance monitoring abilities. It did not find any evidence of political fingerprints but that was not going to stop opposition parties from claiming it existed.

Bethan Jenkins was arrested on suspicion of drink driving.

It was one of those months where you couldn’t turn on the news or pick up a paper without someone having published a report of some kind.

In Wales, everybody had a view on the report by the Silk Commission but the debate seemed to more about the final method of adoption than the principles it espoused. The idea of the Welsh government gaining tax-varying powers by 2020 would need a referendum. That first needed a two-thirds majority vote in the assembly as well as the backing of both Houses of Parliament. No-one thought it was going to be straightforward.

Lord Justice Leveson unburdened his mind on how the press should be regulated. It was fitting that Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson had heard their bail conditions just 30 minutes beforehand. David Cameron decided that he could not back the findings of the inquiry he had set up and the press called for another round in the Last Chance saloon.

Education Secretary Leighton Andrews felt that Wales’ 22 local education authorities were ensconced in a similar establishment. His message to councils was to up their game or else see a more centralised education system administered by regional school boards accountable to ministers. Those on the chalk face were unimpressed and a few with agency-led government experience recalled that accountability is often the first casualty under such circumstances.

Tax avoidance was back in the news as Starbucks and others did their damage limitation thing. Some pundits were impressed by the newfound sense of corporate responsibility while the unconvinced dismissed the moves as pantomime.

Lib Dems in government finished the year in much the way they began. Fresh from a by-election wipe out, their claims to be the mitigating force within the coalition remained laughable. Clegg’s initiatives were quietly sabotaged while some of his ministers even began to sound like tories. It was no wonder that UKIP continued to make inroads.

In Wales, Labour did a leftward spasm in announcing the planned purchase of Cardiff Airport. Then followed a reminder that solving a problem required more than simply throwing resources at it. After a decade of proactive language policy culminating in equality in government, census figures revealed a decline in the use of Welsh.


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