A WISE former councillor once gave me an interesting piece of advice when visiting a local fete: never get given the job of judging a competition in your constituency. After all, he said, you’ll make one person happy by declaring them the winner. But you’ll disappoint far more people by not choosing them!
So I wasn’t altogether overjoyed when, as Secretary of State for Wales, I was given the job of choosing a new Welsh city to mark the Queen’s Golden Jubilee in 2002. I chose Newport – a decision which was duly reported as “a disappointment for the rival towns of Aberystwyth, Machynlleth, Newtown, St Asaph, and Wrexham.”
I think the people of those great Welsh places have forgiven me by now, but my former colleague was certainly right! I chose Newport then because of the strength of its case, and have been pleased to see the city it has become – not one without its challenges, but one that continues to grow in significance, whether hosting the Ryder Cup or the forthcoming NATO Summit.
That is why, in all the recent talk of reorganising local Government in Wales, I hope the status and significance of the City of Newport will be properly respected. That is not to say that I deny the need for some form of change from the 22 current Councils – my local party have suggested they are prepared to explore mergers with neighbouring Blaenau Gwent and Monmouthshire, for example. But whatever change comes, it must respect the principle of local democracy by reflecting the community ties that bind us, rather than just creating artificial and unresponsive regional blocks that will do little to improve local services. Bigger does not always equal better.
In Parliament this month, I welcomed the arrival of Stephen Crabb as Secretary of State for Wales. We may not be of the same party and will have our differences, but I welcome his suggestion that a line should be drawn under recent disagreements between the two Governments. Although lively political debate is vital for democracy, I agree with him we should work together “towards achieving positive things for people and businesses in Wales, because that's what they're looking for."
Of course, it’s not always possible to be so friendly or constructive. One such incident recently was when I heard Nick Clegg telling the world how his party was now opposed to the bedroom tax. I’d welcome that if they were serious, but after all their MPs voted several times FOR the bedroom tax and AGAINST our attempts to repeal it, I think people will see straight through Mr Clegg’s hollow words. Anyone would think there was an election coming…