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A little dissent is good for democracy

I’ve probably always been a little out of step in thinking that one of the more nonsensical aspects of modern day politics is how everyone needs to be singing from the same hymn-sheet.

A party afflicted by internal divisions is unfit for government, or so the logic goes. And yet it’s often struck me as a facile argument.

Differences between factions have existed ever since the People’s Front of Judea fell out with the Judean Popular Front. They are a mainstay of political life.

All that said, things of late have admittedly taken a slight turn for the surreal.

Last week saw the extraordinary spectacle of a shadow minister resigning live on television – allegedly with the connivance of a public broadcaster. There’s a debate to be had about the professional ethics involved but you have to agree with Stephen Kinnock‘s observation that the episode took UK politics into uncharted territory.

The growing polarisation of political opinion is by no means a strictly Labour phenomenon though.

Conservatives are deeply at odds over whether David Cameron was right to give ministers free rein to campaign on either side in the EU referendum. Sections of the press reckon his hand was forced by hardline Eurosceptics in his cabinet. They’ve also gone as far as to describe his concession as shoddy statesmanship.

Speaking over the weekend, the Prime Minster said he does not want the referendum to be a verdict on his popularity. Too late on that one, methinks.

Despite all the hoo-hah, the main thing to be said about the so-called ‘new politics’ is that it is nothing of the sort (new, that is). It’s no big innovation to be open about how a party is divided on a subject.

Liberal Democrats have been always been meticulous about airing their policy differences in public. In the old days, such outbreaks of disharmony were called “refreshing”. Nowadays, with just 8 MPs, the more appropriate description would probably be “academic”.

Politics is all about debate. The most important ones happen within parties as much as between them. This modern obsession with everyone being so on-message simply feeds the media’s self-appointed role to root out evidence of discord – real or contrived.

Managing the message is fine. Where problems begin is when factional pressures force parties into positions that appeal to their own narrow interest groups rather than the consensual approach that the public expect.

A bit of internal dissent is good for democracy. I suppose the question to be asked is whether it’s good for the country in the longer term.

The answer to that one, as ever, lies with the voters.


Acts of engagement

I was reading how a business group, which I won’t name here, claimed that 73% of the Welsh firms they surveyed said devolution had done nothing of any worth.

The group’s chief executive called the results “a damning judgement on the performance of the Welsh Assembly since it was created” – which is a little awkward given that he himself had worked for the WDA and then Welsh Government in business support for over eight years.

Anyway, what followed was a list of demands which politicians must support to demonstrate they’re actually a business-friendly bunch.

Compare this combative style with the local developer who has suggested a forum that can allow the house-building industry to help Swansea Council make the planning system more cost-effective.

I’ll admit to being biased in both instances but I leave it to you to decide which approach deserves a better chance of success.


Time to keep us in the picture

I was lucky enough last week to be allowed a look around the newly refurbished BBC Wales studios at Swansea’s Alexandra Road.

Although the work is small-scale compared to the corporation’s new £120 headquarters planned for the centre of Cardiff, it’s still nonetheless encouraging to see investment outside the capital.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, there are now more people making a living in creative arts in Wales than in the financial sector. Whether or not you think this is a good thing is probably an argument for another time.

The present concern among producers is that there are not enough resources going into programmes made in Wales for Welsh audience, such as High Hopes and Hinterland.

We’ve built up a huge amount of industry talent and expertise in places like Bay Studios. It makes no sense if we now fail to put these to good use.


Goodbye Major Tom

Yesterday’s sad news at the passing of David Bowie had me reminiscing like pretty much everyone else of my generation.

I try not to be ageist but I agree with the pundit who said that you had to be there in 1969 to appreciate how Space Oddity became an iconic moment in popular culture.

The truly marvellous thing about him as an artist though is that you can be any age to appreciate his wide and often whimsical talent. Time never changed that.

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