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Old Masters’ Almanack for 2012

If 2011 can rightly claim to have been one of the busiest ever years in Welsh politics, 2012 is going to give it a good run for its money.

Here, in no particular order, is my list of just some of what you can expect to crop up in January alone:

New Parliamentary boundaries for Wales

Whatever the Boundary Commission announces early on in January will be controversial enough in itself because it will involve cutting 40 Welsh parliamentary constituencies down to 30.

But it’ll also have two direct results.

Firstly MPs will have to decide whether or not to compete against their own party colleagues to try to be selected for the new constituencies and, if they don’t, whether or not to retire, try to become Assembly Members or do something else. Some will think about standing for the new elected police commissioner posts.

The second direct effect will be on Assembly constituencies. The UK Government will almost certainly begin a review of Assembly constituencies very shortly after the Westminster review is announced.

This has already proven controversial with Labour eventually agreeing that there should be no change but, if there is to be change,  it should result in 30 two-member seats chosen by first past the post.

Plaid Cymru and others have instead called for 30 first past the post constituencies and 30 list seats chosen through a more proportional method.

The review will also take into account other related factors such as whether or not 60 members is the right amount now that the Assembly has full legislative powers. I fully expect the Richard Commission recommendation for there to be 80 members to be back on the agenda in the coming year even though that will be a difficult change for any party to argue for.

Rail electrification will be re-electrified.

The decision to go ahead with the plan to electrify the rail line from London to Cardiff was hailed as a significant achievement by supporters of the UK Government coalition parties and a disappointment to others because it didn’t reach to Swansea as originally planned under Labour.

But its far from over. Expect there to be a flurry of electrification activity in the new year with the Welsh Government publishing a new business case for extending electrification to Swansea, a case probably based on the possibility it creates for electrifying other smaller lines from Swansea.

I’ve heard that because it’s now much more about the knock-on effect on other lines, the new Transport Secretary Justine Greening is giving the idea a sympathetic hearing as are ministers at all levels of the UK Government.

At the same time, the Welsh Secretary will be pushing the case for electrification of the Valley Lines. Since responsibility for these is shared by the two governments, they are working together on the possibilities.

Mr Jones Goes To Europe

The First Minister has already taken a strong position against David Cameron’s use of his veto at recent EU negotiations, writing a critical letter himself and a joint one with Scottish First Minster, Alex Salmond.

Next month, he’ll be going to Brussels himself to push a simple message: ‘What the Prime Minister is doing and saying, it’s not in our name.’

Welsh Government sources say Wales benefits significantly from the UK being in the EU, not just from structural funds and agricultural money, but from vital industry links.

Carwyn Jones will be meeting EU commissioners to try to make sure they get that message. His room for manoeuvre is limited though because any negotiations are carried out at a UK level.

This is also going to be an issue at …

The Joint Ministerial Committee

… which is due to meet early in the new year. This is the forum bringing together the devolved leaders with the UK Government.

David Cameron has agreed that Carwyn Jones and Alex Salmond’s concerns should be discussed. They’ll make sure it will be.

Labour will hit back at ‘do nothing’ criticism.

The party hasn’t exactly been stung by the criticism, but acknowledges that the perception is gaining some sort of hold as it’s hammered repeatedly by the opposition.

Early on in the New Year, expect to see a document – from the party, not from the Government – listing what Welsh Labour says it’s achieved already and spelling out exactly what it plans to do in the near future.

And that document is meant to be the start of a longer-term strategy to reinvigorate the party and win over new voters at a time when its electoral position here in Wales is stronger than for a long time.

Party chiefs think that doing that, not when Welsh Labour is on the back foot after an election defeat, but is in a position of strength and in government will provide it with a winning narrative for the local elections and stand it in good stead beyond that.

Labour and the Liberal Democrats keep talking

But don’t say it’ll pave the way for a coalition or any kind of working arrangement. I gather any such suggestions from either side have been firmly squashed.

What they will be talking about in January is how to spend the £216m extra the UK Treasury passed to the Welsh Government following George Osborne’s autumn statement.

These discussions were part of the budget agreement between the two parties and began before the Assembly term ended. They’ll resume in earnest next month.

I’ve wondered aloud to a number of senior people in both parties whether or not the outlines of a longer-term arrangement are in place. After all the budget contains plans for the Lib Dems’ pupil premium to be carried on for a further two years.

But I have been firmly assured that the agreement is a one-off deal. A government source said next year’s budget discussions begin at ‘year zero’ and negotiation over legislation will be open to all parties.

Plaid Cymru’s leadership election begins

Nominations open at the very beginning of January. There’ll be four contenders: Leanne Wood, Simon Thomas, Elin Jones and Dafydd Elis Thomas.

Party hustings and other events follow, with the new leader being unveiled on March 15th.

Also in January, Plaid’s internal review conducted by Eurfyl ap Gwilym will be published. He’s been looking at what went wrong in May’s election and what the party should do next to rebuild for the future.

If that’s not enough …

Beyond January, Local Health Boards will be publishing their plans for reorganising hospital services in the early part of the year; there are the Welsh local elections to look forward to in May; there’s also the selection of candidates to become Police Commissioners followed by their election towards the end of the year and also in the autumn, there’ll be the first report of the Silk Commission on Assembly powers.


About Adrian Masters

By day, Political Editor at ITV Wales. By night, obsessed with music and books.


2 thoughts on “Old Masters’ Almanack for 2012

  1. Meh- I think a Referendum and Election ar far bigger events. Although I do hope for the sake of the country that policies/money start coming out of Cathays Park – I feel they’ve done nothing in 6 months!

    Posted by dewi | December 22, 2011, 6:04 pm
  2. A document of achievements? could probably publish on a postcard and have room to spare.
    12 years of Labour’s dead hand is killing the creativity of this country

    Posted by Mike | December 22, 2011, 8:44 pm

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