Saturday, 3 April 2010

Keeping up with the Jones'

Posted on This is My Truth on April 3rd


Carwyn and Ieuan that is. It is hard to track their current thinking on when to hold a referendum, though my sense is that the option of this coming October is looking increasingly unlikely. But, of course, it ‘all depends’. One of the factors in the mix is how the arguments will play post-election. And it’ll all come out in the wash-up.

As Westminster business managers decide which legislation lives or dies in the final days of this Parliament the fate of the Housing Legislative Competence Order is unlikely to grab headlines. But it will provide the backdrop to a key test of wills that will be closely followed by the Jones’ for signs of how the devolution debate might play out.

Only legislation with the support of both main parties will reach the statute book this week and the conservatives are threatening to exercise their veto if this threat to Margaret Thatcher’s legacy stands.

It is by now a familiar argument. The LCO would give the Assembly the power to prevent council house tenants from buying their homes in areas where rented housing is hard to come by. But by itself the LCO does nothing, it simply passes the power down to Cardiff Bay. It would take fresh legislation in the Assembly to suspend the right to buy. However, it is a chance MPs are reluctant to take.

The debate has become caught up in the pre-election maelstrom, and the Tories are thoughtfully playing the role of pantomime villains. But of course the history of this particular LCO is long and tortured and those with long memories will remember that Labour MPs played their part in trying to stymie the Assembly’s wishes. The truth is it’s hard to let go.

But now party politics comes into play. Enter stage right Peter Hain:

“From my point of view this looks like another example of two-faced Toryism. They tell the people of Wales they support devolution but they oppose new powers. They support a referendum but they oppose new powers on housing”

Putting the double standards to one side, if the Tories don’t blink and succeed in stopping the LCO they’ll gift the Jones’ a component of the narrative they need for the Yes campaign. Welsh MPs don’t always give us what they want, they’ll be able to say, but wait until the Tories have a majority on the Welsh Select Committee. You think Alun Michael is unhelpful, wait till Stephen Crabb, Simon Hart and Alun Cairns get going….you get the picture.

Depending on a series of other factors this week’s negotiations on the Housing LCO may point the way towards an October referendum.

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