The Battle for Better Government

Cardiff Bay ambitions for control of policing are dead. Or, if not dead, they have assumed zombie status, condemned to wander government corridors frightening the occasional apparatchik before melting back into their coffin.

That much we learnt last week, as the dust settled on proposals for Cardiff’s future powers.

Conservatives are not offering Cardiff control of the police. Labour have offered everything they can short of that. Much as Plaid might wish it, they are unlikely to hold such sway over the next Parliament that they can demand a change.

That is a good thing for the people of Wales, and mid-Wales in particular. ‘Devolution’ has always meant Cardiff control. Until the Welsh Government can demonstrate some degree of accountability and success in the areas it does control, we cannot risk handing over more.

Perhaps more interesting than the future of policing is what this means for devolution as a policy. The Secretary of State for Wales, Stephen Crabb, has offered Cardiff tax-raising powers. That seems a sensible attempt to insist on some sort of accountability. If the Welsh Government wants to spend money, let them raise it.

But what if they can’t, or won’t? I wouldn’t bet against that outcome.

Then, surely we will have to ask some serious questions of the whole approach. There are many ways to get power closer to people.

Until now there hasn’t been much alternative. Now, though, we have Manchester. The Mayor of Manchester will have significant powers. More importantly, he or she will be directly accountable to the public.

If it works – and I think it will – the Manchester model will break the committee-ism which strangles attempts to improve local government. It gives people power through direct election and gets Whitehall out of the way.

Let us hope we are not too late. It’s hard to escape the impression that devolution as we have it has failed on almost every level. The English rejected regional assemblies. Wales barely supported it and has been rewarded with the worst government in Britain ever since. It was supposed to kill Scottish nationalism. Instead it has fuelled it.

Devolution as we have it has weakened Wales’ and Scotland’s voice in the UK by allowing MPs and media to neglect Welsh and Scottish issues.

We need each other. England needs Welsh, Irish and Scottish voices to counter its tendency to boorish arrogance. Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland need England to counter their small, cosy and self-serving elites.

Policing is staying where it should: accountable to the public via local Police and Crime Commissioners and part of the UK government. That is a relief.

But the bigger battle for better government rages on.

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