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Re-Arranging Titanic's Deckchairs
AFTER A two-year investigation, the Richard Commission has recommended that the Welsh Assembly should be given primary law-making powers by 2011.
Dave Reid, Socialist Party Wales
The same week it was revealed that a 55-year-old woman suffering from pneumonia and heart problems was forced to wait for a hospital bed on a trolley for four days at Swansea's Morriston hospital.
Former leader of the Lords, Lord Richard and his team of nine commissioners spent nearly two years examining the way the Cardiff Bay body works. Their report suggested giving the Assembly more powers gradually between now and 2011. It also suggests raising the number of Assembly Members from 60 to 80, and electing them using a single transferable vote system.
The problem that Labour Lord Richard and the rest of the commission have had to grapple with is how can the Welsh Assembly work if it has no power to do anything?
Dissatisfaction has grown throughout Wales as none of the problems of Welsh society have been addressed let alone solved by the Welsh Assembly. The Assembly has been viewed with utter contempt by people in Wales.
Last May, while some schools complained they did not have enough classroom chairs for their students, the politicians squabbled over the seating arrangements in the Assembly. Thousands of pounds were spent moving the seats around the chamber so that they could each sit next to their friends.
A few minor reforms like free bus passes for the elderly have been outweighed by the worsening of major crises in health and education. One in ten of the Welsh population occupy a place on a health waiting list rather than in a hospital bed.
The 'Welsh Labour' majority in the Assembly has proudly boasted that top-up fees will not apply to Wales (for one year at least!) but the Assembly government has not got the cash to fund Welsh universities separately to England.
So, as Socialist Party Wales predicted when the Assembly was established, the Richard Commission has concluded that the Assembly should have law-making powers. But these powers will only apply to those areas of government devolved to the Assembly and the Welsh Office before it like health, education, housing and social services.
So the Welsh Assembly, even under these proposals, will have no power over fiscal and monetary policy, employment legislation, most energy matters, the railways, social security, broadcasting, equal opportunities, police or criminal justice, as well as defence, immigration and nationality issues.
It is proposing that the number of Assembly members should be increased from 60 to 80 to deal with the proposed new powers and allow for their election by the purely proportional representative system of Single Transferable Vote (as in elections to the Dail, the Irish Parliament) instead of the current Regional List mixture of 'first past the post' and proportional representation.
Socialist Party Wales has always supported law-making powers for the Welsh Assembly and would support the election of Assembly Members by proportional representation which would allow space for new representatives of the working class to challenge the four main pro-capitalist parties.
However, the Richard Commission's proposals are a million miles from the aspirations of the ordinary working class people of Wales. These proposals are motivated by the desire to smooth out the creases of a failing system.
It looks likely that Labour Party Wales leadership will accept extra powers for the Assembly but not election by proportional representation nor the expansion of the number of Assembly Members to 80. The excuse used will be that people in Wales do not want more politicians in the Assembly. But if they were that concerned about the perception of politicians then they would not vote for their inflated salaries.
The basic problem is that the public services that the Assembly is responsible for are under-funded by the Blair/Brown government and all the main parties accept the basis for this under-funding. Richard concedes that there is a case for tax raising powers for the Welsh Assembly but everyone knows that there is little scope for taxing Wales anymore because the Welsh GDP is the lowest in Britain.
So unless a socialist leadership of the Assembly is elected that fights for the return of the billions of pounds taken from public services in Wales and the rest of Britain over the past 25 years then none of the crushing problems affecting public services can be solved.
Until fighters for the working class lead the Assembly then the Richard proposals amount to re-arranging the deckchairs on the deck of the Titanic. And re-arranging chairs is one thing that the Assembly already can do.
In The Socialist 17 April 2004:
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