The state of the union
It’s been a challenging couple of weeks for Theresa May.
Compared to other events associated with the Ides of March, last Wednesday was pretty tame. Nonetheless, the daggers were definitely out for the prime minister.
First was the mortifying PM’s question time where she had to explain how the government had “listened to people” – presumably that meant people who’d read the Conservative manifesto – and would not be hiking national insurance contributions for the self-employed after all.
It didn’t come as much of a surprise. Lacklustre sophistry and anonymous statements by Downing street neighbours as to which of them had screwed up had already moved on to comments about "upholding the spirit of the manifesto”.
Soon thereafter followed another banana-skin in the form of a dozen police reports sent to the Crown Prosecution Service over ‘incomplete’ expenses (translation: a bit on the dodgy side) submitted by Conservative general election candidates.
The contentious issue was the role of a travelling campaign team, known in some circles as the “Bully Bus” (another story), and whether their activity should be listed as a locally incurred expense.
I guess matters weren’t helped by reported reluctance from central office to divulge key information. This ended up with the Electoral Commission needing to get a court order before applying a record £70,000 fine for “misreporting” monies actually spent.
Party officials must have been getting punchy by then for allowing off-the-record briefings by Mrs May's aides that it had all happened on David Cameron’s watch. Such briefings might have been more credible were it not for the fact that those same aides were under investigation themselves.
When further word arose over the weekend about a potential tory backbench revolt over grammar schools, the looming prospect of a second Scottish independence referendum must have been a rather welcome distraction.
It certainly gave the PM an opportunity to talk up the benefits of keeping the union as she spread a little Westminster largesse in Swansea Bay – as well as issue reassurances that Brexit means ….. whatever Brexit means.
Let’s just hope it doesn’t mean a skills shortage jus
t as the economy finally gets the boost it needs.
Noise from the City Deal sidelines
It was never quite a case of ‘Deal or No Deal’ but that didn't stop uninformed sources from insisting the option should be exercised unless the private sector had a bigger say.
What struck me as ironic however is that the two most voluble critics who bemoan an alleged lack of business sector involvement actually no longer operate in Wales themselves or else are selling off their local interests.
But let’s be blunt, there was no way the Swansea Bay City Deal was ever going to be another metro-centric cheerleader group with all its eggs dumped into a single infrastructure basket. Nor is there much scope for the brand of crony-capitalism that has a habit of creating 'opportunities' but seldom result in economic and social transformation.
Time and pragmatic experience has taught us the effectiveness of diversification, innovation and partnerships. We have to run twice as fast to get anything like the benefits that drop into the Welsh capital's lap with such ease.
Accordingly, the extent of public sector influence - which is perceived as a weakness to some outside our corner of Wales - is a key factor that consistently attracts private investors to the locality.
You’d think that the experts on the sidelines would had figured that one out by now.