AWEMA – Wales, Government by Patronage
Thu. February 23, 2012
One of the key determining political messages of the 1997 Referendum campaign was that a Yes vote would herald the end of the quango state developed by the Tories during the Thatcher to Major years in Wales – which enabled them to hold a vice like grip on the Welsh body politick despite holding virtually no political mandate. The hope was that the tides of democracy would wash in a new dawn of transparent and plural politics. Many of us have become increasingly concerned at the manner in which the Tories quango state has been transformed to a new system of government by patronage this time not dominated by Labour rather than the Tories.
The other battering ram of the Yes campaign in 1997 was that devolution would bring government closer to the people and that a new culture of inclusive politics would follow. What has actually happened by deliberate design by Labour is a government of elites.
Post devolution, one of the greatest challenges faced by Wales was the development of a civil society to complement the new Welsh democracy. Civil Society plays a crucial role in any democratic society – particularly in relation to the scrutiny of policy. Dr Elin Royles, from the Institute of Welsh Politics at Aberystwyth University has written extensively in her book ‘Revitalising Democracy’ about how the Welsh Government heavily influenced the fledgling Welsh civil society during the first Assembly term.
Basically in simple terms they have had exclusive and cosy relationships with some organisations whilst excluding those that were deemed to be critical. With Welsh civil society being so weak, most bodies are dependant upon Welsh Government sponsored finance to exist. As the old adage goes ‘he who pays the piper calls the tune’. Control over civil society of course has enabled Labour to build a post devolution political hegemony with worrying consequences for our democracy. As someone who has worked in the Third Sector involved in many cross organisations ventures I was amazed how these bodies were filled with Labour activists (particularly the top jobs) – a remarkable achievement for a party that rarely gets more than 40% of the vote. It damages Welsh democracy that civil society is so closely tied to one party.
The AWEMA scandal therefore in my views raises wider concerns about the trajectory of political travel in Wales. We are still a very young democracy and there is a natural temptation for nationalists like myself to not rock the boat too much on stories such as this because in the end it will damage devolution as a concept. However, if Wales is to achieve its political potential – then those of us who cares about our democracy need to point out its current failings. In my view Labour run Wales by cronyism.
The situation in Wales seems frighteningly similar to that in Japan under the Liberal Democratic Party and in the Republic of Ireland under Fianna Fail – a single party which remains in power or close to power, despite rarely achieving a majority of votes. These are clientist states where confusion reigns as to where the party ends and civic society begins, leading to groupthink and economic disasters in both during recent decades.
One of the Labour party’s greatest failings is its inherent tribal and sectarian instincts. Despite the huge contradictions that exist within the party – the zealous spiritual belief that the party is more important than anything else is undoubtedly one of the reasons why it has dominated Welsh politics for the bet part of a century. In Westminster I have been struck by the robotic discipline of the Parliamentary Labour Party, apart from a few honourable exceptions
The AWEMA scandal is deeply disturbing. Its Chief Executive was an attack dog often unleashed by Labour to attack my party. His son is a senior Labour activist and was a candidate at the last National Assembly election.
Get ready for a press notice along the lines of ‘lessons have been learnt’. This isn’t good enough, given the seriousness of what we already know alone, Ministers must be held to account for what has gone on. If that means losing their jobs, so be it. Not to mix words – it’s obviously a cover up by Labour Ministers to protect one of their own. We learnt this week that my colleague, former AM Dai Lloyd, had raised concerns conveyed direct to him with a Government Minister who had assured him that he was fully engaged.
I have little doubt that Labour will attack the conspiratorial tone of this blog, and therefore I have a suggestion which could settle the matter. The severity of the AWEMA scandal in my view warrants decisive action. The Welsh Government should now publish a full and comprehensive list of all bodies (apart from public services) that it funds directly or indirectly (including sums) noting the political affiliation of all Directors and Senior Staff. Only then can we impartially judge whether Labour is constructing a one party state in Wales or not. This should be on a statutory and annual basis and could herald a new dawn of transparent, inclusive and plural politics as envisaged by the pioneers of Welsh devolution. It would also free civil society to undertake its essential job in any healthy democracy and remove government by patronage.
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