“The Welsh Government is not an institute of angels,” asserted Alun Davies AM (Lab, Blaenau Gwent), the fallen angel Lucifer of Assembly politics and our nearest thing to a Minister Emeritus.
His powerful comments came in a seminar organised by the Electoral Reform Society and the Bevan Foundation around the role of Welsh Civic Society and were made in reference to the timidity he and most of the room felt about the robustness by which many challenge, critique and respond to Welsh Government policies. His thinking was shaped by many experiences, including the point in the last Assembly where an essentially state funded charity made the controversial statement that there was nothing extra the Welsh Government could do to challenge poverty. But he was broader than that in his analysis. He also challenged Positif and other public affairs practitioners to do more than just encourage him to hold up a plastic board with a slogan on it. We all have to do more to contribute meaningfully and constructively to policy making.
As we reflect on twenty years of devolution, far too much of which has been done over bowled crisps and tepid pinot grigio, the Bubble has been way too soft on itself. We have also collectively been too soft on the Welsh Government. Proximity to politicians has perhaps too many times inhibited our ability to challenge and to chide.
The most refreshing thing about the event in question is how self-critical it was. The overwhelming feeling in the room was that the whole culture around the Assembly was so compact it was cosy. It was impressive, therefore, to see that the room by means of votes took action on a series of recommendations to move the debate forward. There was near unanimity around proposals to develop a compact allowing fair and open criticism, to which the Welsh Government would also be invited to sign up. A clear majority also backed proposals for the framing of a register of lobbyists. We also felt, by an overwhelming number, that those organisations presenting evidence to Welsh Government and the Assembly should declare the amount of public money they receive and for what. Less convincingly, by a majority akin to a referendum, the room also approved the suggestion that members of organisations giving evidence to Assembly committees should also make a declaration on their party political affiliation.
And those who green carded these proposals were members of civil society. So many of us, silent and loud, genuinely believe that more can be done to challenge the culture of cosiness that has been a by-product of the last two decades.
In other news this week, people in another room argued for hours about changing the name of a building.