Monday, February 28, 2011


I have just finished Martin Shipton’s new book “A Poor Man’s Parliament”, a chronological history of the National Assembly for Wales from our leading political journalist.

It is an excellent read and is highly recommended to anyone with even just a passing interest in Welsh politics.

However, it is also a largely depressing account, especially in terms of the stories of incompetence, misadministration and bullying amongst our political classes during the last twelve years.

Clearly, the National Assembly is no longer the new shining democracy that we all wanted to see flourish in Wales after 1999.

Unless I have read the book incorrectly, much of the blame for the way that the Assembly has turned out is laid firmly at the door of the Labour Party in Wales, whose leaders have put their own internal political needs before those of the nation.

Time and time again, Martin demonstrates how Labour were more interested in balancing the internal divisions between different factions rather than focusing on what could transform the nation for the better.

The original vision of “the brightest and the best” seems to have been largely replaced by one of incompetent mediocrity both within the political classes and the civil service with predictable results for the health, education and economy of this nation.

However, the most telling phrase in the whole book, and one which demonstrates the bunker mentality of the last three Labour-led Governments, is the one in which Martin discusses the culture of fear which exists amongst those who deal with the Assembly Government.

“Too many people were frightened to criticise the Assembly Government openly, either because they thought their organisations would be victimised financially or that they themselves would be branded as mavericks or troublemakers, possibly to their material disadvantage.”

Is that really the sort of Stalinist nation we want to live in?

In my opinion, any Minister who abuses their position in such a way should be immediately sacked. The stocks would be too good for anyone who abuses the democratic rights of the citizens of Wales to express their opinions without fear of reprisals. However, as Martin demonstrates in the case of at least one Minister, the punishment rarely fits the crime.

Voltaire’s dictum (“I disapprove of your views, but would fight to the death for your right to express them”) should be a key component of the Ministerial Code and imprinted in large letters above every entrance to the Assembly Debating Chamber. It is something that very few in the Labour Party in Wales seems to have practiced, at least during the last twelve years of devolution.

A Poor Man’s Parliament is one that is well worth reading but more importantly, it emphasises the importance of a strong and independent press and the fearless approach of rare individuals such as Martin Shipton.

Read it if you can.