Wednesday, 18 May 2011

I Agree with a Plaid MP...sort of.

It does happen from time to time believe it or not althought the fact that Plaid Cymru only have 3 MPs means that by default, there is relatively little to agree or disagree with.

All the same, I found myself agreeing with the new Carmarthen East & Dinefwr MP, Jonathan Edwards when he challenged the UK Government last week to change the way in which Welsh Assembly members are elected.

Jonathan Edwards MP
As this Western Mail article states, Jonathan has requested that the Government considers the possibility of future Assembly Members being elected with an equal share of 30 AMs from constituencies and 30AMs from the regional lists. This would replace the current 40AM / 20AM split at present.

I agree with this new way of thinking because it would chime with the planned re-organisation of Parliamentary boundaries which is likely to see the number of Welsh MPs elected to Westminster reduced from the current 40, down to 30.

My biggest concern with this legislation currently going through Parliament is that unless alterations were made at a Cardiff Bay level, there would be different sized constituencies electing MPs and AMs and there could be great confusion. As an example, if the Boundary Commission decided that the new Ceredigion Westminster seat would extend to incorporate the parts of north Pembrokeshire that it used to cover in the 1980s and 1990s, then my maternal family living in and around Eglwyswrw would vote for an MP who covers an area up to and beyond Aberystwyth whilst electing an AM (on the current Preseli Pembrokeshire electoral boundaries) who represents down to Milford Haven and Neyland in southern Pembrokeshire.

This to me makes little sense and Jonathan's comments if carried through, would eradicate this problem as the co-terminus link between Westminster and Cardiff Bay electoral boundaries would remain the same (whichever way they may look by 2015).

Better Proportionality
In addition, by compensating for this loss of 10 constituency AMs by filling the void by extending the amount elected on the regional lists, it should help to further increase the proportionality of votes cast, to seats attained by different political parties in the Assembly.

So in theory, I wholly agree with Jonathan's sentiments.

Indeed, when he raised the question in the House of Commons to the Welsh Secretary Cheryl Gillan, she responded by saying:

"I am taking (Mr Edwards') question as a recommendation that we have 30 first-past-the-post seats and 30 elected on a list system, and I will look seriously at that suggestion".

So it is not at all inconceivable that this idea could be taken forward in the future.

Don't Make it Political
However, what frustrated me and doesn't do Jonathan's worthy cause any help was the way in which he phrased the issue.

On his website here, the Press Release that covered the question and response in Westminster was titled 'End Labour Assembly Bias'. He makes the valid point that Welsh Labour's dominance of politics in Wales is based on the first-past-the-post electoral system and that a more proportional alternative would help to reverse to some degree, that imbalance.

However, he is not going to win any friends with the Labour administration in Cardiff Bay which holds half of the seats in the Senedd, by using an anti-Labour argument to bolster his case. For it would be difficult for the Westminster Government to force through changes to the way in which the Assembly is elected without the support of that very body. Yet by couching his argument in such a politically party-partisan way, he is going to throw up unecessary obstacles in the way of getting such a change through the required political processes.

It's incredibly frustrating. He makes valid points about proportionality and the co-terminosity of Westminster and Assembly constituencies but loses the moral high-ground by bringing Labour-bashing into it.


  1. I have been thinking that there should be a system of PR, rather than the current system of 40 directly elected AM's and then a top up of 20 regional AM's.

    My reason being that it seemed odd that the Conservatives increased their number of seats, yet lost Nick Bourne, who I suppose could be considered as the architect of their improvement over the last 10 years.

    Somehow, I cant see Labour supporting a system of fairness.

  2. That all makes great sense to me, I also think that a shift to more Regional AMs would be a good idea in providing a more strategic angle in the Assembly. Constituency AMs have, understandably, a focus on case work and narrow constituency interests, but this may lead to them having less interest in resolving Wales (or Region) wide issues.

    Paradoxically though, this leads me to think that in Wales the greatest anachronism is the "Constituency MP". The amount of local casework genuinely within an MPs remit must now be rather small. Perhaps the MPs should be elected "Regionally"?