Who will Rhodri share his new toys with?

Labour may be feeling gloomy about the Scottish elections but in Wales it's a rather different story

THE prospect of a Scottish showdown between Gordon Brown and Alex Salmond has, understandably, prompted acres of excitable newspaper coverage south of the border, but 200 miles west of Whitehall another election contest has been meandering along, almost un-noticed.

Anyone who has followed the Scottish campaign, will, if they suddenly switch their attention to the Welsh Assembly poll, immediately recognised the carefully, complex choreography that the party leaders are engaged in. In Wales, as in Scotland, coalition politics is here to stay, and who’s flirting with whom is a key theme of the election.

There’s one key difference between these Celtic elections, though – in Wales there is no prospect of anyone other than Labour, led by the idiosyncratic but popular Rhodri Morgan, being the largest party.

They currently hold 29 of the 60 seats, and most pundits, me included, expected them to get 24-25 this time around.

That means deals need to be done when the results are in. Most likely is a Lab-Lib coalition, although the prospect of a Lab-Plaid Cymru arrangement has also been floated, sending sparks flying within both parties. An outside bet is a Plaid-Tory-Lib Dem coalition, which would represent a political earthquake requiring a new scale to measure it.

The prospect of the Tories in Government, albeit working with others, has been used by Labour to try to frighten its core voters into turning up on May 3. Plaid have thrown a spanner in the works, however, by insisting they wouldn’t serve as a junior partner to the Tories.

The fight for second place, therefore, takes on added significance. Early polls pointed to a Tory revival, with a mix of the Cameron effect and the Welsh Tories’ re-positioning as a pro-devolution party helping to put them ahead of Plaid. But more recent surveys show Plaid – who, for once, have some money to burn – back ahead.

All this coalition talk risks turning off voters, of course - after all, likes being taken for granted. Despite their habit of telling pollsters they do like devolution, only 38% of Welsh people turned out to vote in 2003. This year the figure may creep up, but not by much.

Surveying the scene on May 4 will be Mr Morgan, the Labour leader who has been left largely to do his own thing in office, and his own thing in the campaign. A long-standing proponent of a Scottish-style parliament, he’ll have more powers in a new, half-way house system after the election. But who’ll he choose to share his new toys with? We’ll have to wait and see.

Tomos Livingstone is Political Editor of the Western Mail. Raised in Pembrokeshire he studied at LSE before going into journalism.
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Rising crime and fewer police show the most damaging impacts of austerity

We need to protect those who protect us.

Today’s revelation that police-recorded crime has risen by 10 per cent across England and Wales shows one of the most damaging impacts of austerity. Behind the cold figures are countless stories of personal misery; 723 homicides, 466,018 crimes with violence resulting in injury, and 205,869 domestic burglaries to take just a few examples.

It is crucial that politicians of all parties seek to address this rising level of violence and offer solutions to halt the increase in violent crime. I challenge any Tory to defend the idea that their constituents are best served by a continued squeeze on police budgets, when the number of officers is already at the lowest level for more than 30 years.

This week saw the launch Chris Bryant's Protect The Protectors Private Member’s Bill, which aims to secure greater protections for emergency service workers. It carries on where my attempts in the last parliament left off, and could not come at a more important time. Cuts to the number of police officers on our streets have not only left our communities less safe, but officers themselves are now more vulnerable as well.

As an MP I work closely with the local neighbourhood policing teams in my constituency of Halifax. There is some outstanding work going on to address the underlying causes of crime, to tackle antisocial behaviour, and to build trust and engagement across communities. I am always amazed that neighbourhood police officers seem to know the name of every kid in their patch. However cuts to West Yorkshire Police, which have totalled more than £160m since 2010, have meant that the number of neighbourhood officers in my district has been cut by half in the last year, as the budget squeeze continues and more resources are drawn into counter-terrorism and other specialisms .

Overall, West Yorkshire Police have seen a loss of around 1,200 officers. West Yorkshire Police Federation chairman Nick Smart is clear about the result: "To say it’s had no effect on frontline policing is just a nonsense.” Yet for years the Conservatives have argued just this, with the Prime Minister recently telling MPs that crime was at a record low, and ministers frequently arguing that the changing nature of crime means that the number of officers is a poor measure of police effectiveness. These figures today completely debunk that myth.

Constituents are also increasingly coming to me with concerns that crimes are not investigated once they are reported. Where the police simply do not have the resources to follow-up and attend or investigate crimes, communities lose faith and the criminals grow in confidence.

A frequently overlooked part of this discussion is that the demands on police have increased hugely, often in some unexpected ways. A clear example of this is that cuts in our mental health services have resulted in police officers having to deal with mental health issues in the custody suite. While on shift with the police last year, I saw how an average night included a series of people detained under the Mental Health Act. Due to a lack of specialist beds, vulnerable patients were held in a police cell, or even in the back of a police car, for their own safety. We should all be concerned that the police are becoming a catch-all for the state’s failures.

While the politically charged campaign to restore police numbers is ongoing, Protect The Protectors is seeking to build cross-party support for measures that would offer greater protections to officers immediately. In February, the Police Federation of England and Wales released the results of its latest welfare survey data which suggest that there were more than two million unarmed physical assaults on officers over a 12-month period, and a further 302,842 assaults using a deadly weapon.

This is partly due to an increase in single crewing, which sees officers sent out on their own into often hostile circumstances. Morale in the police has suffered hugely in recent years and almost every front-line officer will be able to recall a time when they were recently assaulted.

If we want to tackle this undeniable rise in violent crime, then a large part of the solution is protecting those who protect us; strengthening the law to keep them from harm where possible, restoring morale by removing the pay cap, and most importantly, increasing their numbers.

Holly Lynch is the MP for Halifax. The Protect the Protectors bill will get its second reading on the Friday 20th October. 

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