Wednesday, January 19, 2011


Having been a member of the  Institute of Welsh Affairs for many years, I was under the impression that despite have becoming part of the Welsh establishment, it remained an independent, membership-based think tank that "owes no allegiance to any political or economic interest group".

Yet last week, it allowed the First Minister to give a speech at the North Wales branch’s annual dinner that even the most independent observer could only describe as highly political.

Here is one extract:

"So, I say to all Welsh Liberal Democrats – voters and members alike. If you still think of yourself as a radical. If you still believe in social justice. If you want to build a better society, then there is a home for you in Welsh Labour. That is my message. Come home. Come and join us. Help us build a better Wales together. Because of our values and radical traditions it falls to Welsh Labour yet again to be standing up for Wales. In the coming months this will be Welsh Labour’s benchmark – on the economy, jobs for young people, welfare reform, public services, the environment, broadcasting, investment and infrastructure. Standing up against the Tory / Lib Dem broken promises over tuition fees, standing up against getting rid of the essential Educational Maintenance Allowance for our young people, on the VAT rise, on scrapping the St. Athan military academy, on fuel prices. I will be standing up for Wales. Welsh Labour will be standing up for Wales".

All good knockabout stuff on the hustings or at the local Labour Club dinner.

However, it is simply unacceptable for an independent thinktank's event to be used as a political soapbox by the leader of one of the parties who will be contesting an Assembly election in less than five months time, even if he is First Minister.

By pandering to the Labour Party in this way, has the IWA finally crossed the rubicon of political independence?

Worst of all, consider how those attending the dinner whose political allegiances are different to the First Minister must have felt listening to this party political broadcast?

I can just imagine the howls of protest from the Welsh Labour establishment if a Conservative leader had made a speech at an IWA annual dinner that directly attacked his or her political opponents.

Owen Smith's PA would be working overtime!

Of course, if the IWA is politically independent, then I am sure it will have no problems in  giving the other three party leaders the same opportunity to attack their opponents at the other annual branch events during the next few months.