A funny little German woman with a sour face and a ludicrous turquoise hat was in Cardiff this week to officially open the 4th session of the Welsh Assembly and demand that AMs swear allegiance to her inbred clan of zillionaire usurpers. Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Saxe-Coburg-Gotha Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg (she won’t respond to “Betty”) patted her harmless little principality on the head, expressed mild surprise that the heavens had not fallen in since Wales was given responsibility for its own litter bins, and congratulated AMs for defying her expectations by showing they could count to 10 unaided.
Giving a plausible impersonation of a semi-recognisible human being, the dear queen endured the flummery, the flunkies, the rent-a-crowd kids and the obligatory awful music with reasonably good grace, before being whisked off in an armour-plated limousine to the bit she’d really been looking forward to: lunch. Fleets of vehicles shipped the royal party to the venue, the Wales Millennium Centre barely 10 metres from the Senedd steps, and I think I noticed a smile play across Cheryl Gillan’s lips, or perhaps she was just breaking wind. They were all there: the jug-eared biscuit salesman and amateur architecture critic; his latest wife, the one who looks like she should be running in the 3.30 at Catterick Bridge; the scary old Greek curmudgeon, clearly drifting into late-stage dementia; oh, and Peter Hain came too. I thought new Presiding Officer Rosemary Butler did ok on her first big occasion, cleverly rummaging in her heavy-duty handbag every time the stilted babytalk ran dry, but felt sorry for her Deputy, David Melding, who wobbled alarmingly while carrying the mace: either he needs to work on his upper-body or he’d stayed up too late the night before at Nick Bourne’s Atlantic Wharf bachelor pad. I’ll find out.
There was outcry from the usual sources (ie Tory/Labour attack dogs Darren Millar and Lynne Neagle) because four Plaid AMs had the gall to find better things to do than bow and scrape before inherited power (Wow! Republicanism! How shockingly modern!). When that fizzled out they turned on another Plaid absentee, poor old Ieuan Wyn Jones, who couldn’t make the ceremony because he was on a pre-booked family holiday in France.
Ieuan is standing down as leader once a successor can be found. He’s secured his place in history by negotiating the pact with Labour in the 3rd Assembly that delivered the referendum victory and increased powers, but his lack of verve, charisma and spontaneity have limited his pan-Wales appeal. He ain’t no Alex Salmond. I’ve always thought he was more suited to a quiet parsonage on the Lleyn peninsular than the political snake-pit. Here’s a tip for the party: be what you are accused of. The other parties always call you “the nationalists” – how about asserting Wales’ nationhood for once and speaking unequivocally for the 20% and rising who support some form of independence? If Plaid won’t, who will? If I were a member (I’m not, usual Groucho Marx reason) I’d be voting for the wonderful Leanne Wood. I think so highly of her that I’m giving a link to her website – www.leannewood.org – something I rarely do as I’m trying to capture all global internet traffic for myself.
But all this, plus the contest for the Tory leadership between Andrew R T Davies and Nick Ramsay which I haven’t even mentioned yet (scathing blog in preparation), pales into insignificance when set against the unprecedented Lib Dem crisis. Due to characteristic mind-boggling ineptitude (they didn’t bother checking qualification rules before the election), two of their five AMs have had to be disqualified from office, leaving the Assembly with only 58 AMs. Labour, having just failed to secure an absolute majority with 30 of the 60 seats and set on governing alone for as long as possible without pacts, has been handed that majority on a plate while the over-the-top “police investigation” drags on. If Carwyn Jones were smart, he’d use this limbo period to hustle through all sorts of measures while he can. Luckily, he isn’t – so the most we can expect is a badger holocaust and a follow-up speech about the exciting opportunities for mens’ shaving accessory entrepreneurs. You couldn’t write this stuff!