Thursday, 12 February 2009

What a cuffufle!

In what has been quite a quiet week for Welsh politics, at least Vaughan has kept us going. Here's his latest post: Siop Shafins

Because I have family connections with one of the schools I've been leaving the task of reporting on the situation of the Treganna schools in Cardiff to my colleagues. But blogging is a bit too much of a temptation for me today with the latest turn of events being quite farcical.

A bit of the background first. The trouble started after a Labour councillor (and one of Rhodri Morgan's constituency workers), Ramesh Patel described a plan to close Lansdowne Primary School and use the building to expand one of the local Welsh schools as "ethnic cleansing". Though some have accused the BBC of dragging their feet on this story it's worth noting that it first appeared here, on this blog. After Neil McEvoy, leader of Cardiff County Council's Plaid Cymru group made an official complaint to the council, Cllr. Patel apologised for his choice of words, but not for the substance of his message. The Police are also conducting an investigation following a complaint from a parent.

Yesterday in the Assembly, without naming Lansdowne School, Rhodri Morgan suggested that he agreed that closing the English school would lead to "ethnic polarisation". Those remarks drew more complaints, this time from the Conservatives and Plaid Cymru.

The two parties' complaints are different. Cllr. McEvoy and Plaid Cymru are accusing the First Minister of breaking an agreement between the parties not to use race for political ends. The Equality Commission drafted that agreement and Plaid Cymru has asked the Commission to analyse the First Minister's remarks.

This afternoon Rhodri also decided to write to the Commission to ask for an investigation into the Council's plan for closing the school. Rhodri could be on dangerous ground here - the exact same ground that was subject to a Tory complaint.

The opposition party is spot on in saying the Assembly Government has a statutory judicial role in the saga. If the Council goes ahead with the plans any appeal would be a matter for the education minister. The Tories suspect Rhodri has broken the rules and mangled the process in prejudging the situation.

What complicated things is that Rhodri is the local Assembly member. Great care was taken today therefore to ensure that today's statement came from the Labour Party and not from the government. So it was a mistake for that statement to have the headline "First Minister requests Equality Commission ruling on school closure". The correction arrived within minutes: "Rhodri was speaking in his capacity as AM for Cardiff North". Of Course Rhodri's constituency is Cardiff West, not Cardiff North!

Innocent mistakes or signs of panic? Both conclusions are possible but this story could be much more important and less parochial than it first appeared.

Translation by Dewi Dau


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