When the going gets tough...

Image copyright bbc
Image caption Who spent how much - and on what - in the referendum campaign.

A passing thought from an old friend this morning. We went to university in '83 (with full grants) to become graduates and storm the world. Now there are 83 people chasing every single graduate job going.

Ok, not exactly uncanny but at least it confirms two things: my age and that while there's a rise in job opportunities for graduates, there's a rise too in the competition for them.

At this morning's lobby briefings, the mood was this: when the going gets tough, the tough get going - so come on Labour, get going. It's so quiet perhaps I should book another holiday, said Ieuan Wyn Jones and give you all something to do. Yes, he was joking.

There was no government briefing. There hasn't been one since the election and rumour has it that it might never reappear. How the new Welsh government intends to communicate its policies with the lobby - and with you - is still a work in progress.

Here's a taste of the other party briefings:

Plaid

It was compare and contrast:

Alex Salmond has already got "a very good deal" for Scotland and now he's asking for more.

Carwyn Jones is asking for very little - a Barnett floor and borrowing powers. If he only gets what he's demanding then the difference in accountability between governments in Edinburgh and Cardiff will be very stark.

But Carwyn Jones might reply that Alex Salmond doesn't run Wales, I ventured - he does.

Plaid's response? That so far the new government has been unambitious and given the coalition government in Westminster no good reason to respond positively to the Labour First Minister here in Wales.

We now have a delivery unit with nothing to deliver, they say, new legislative powers since the March referendum but no new legislation on the go and negotiations with Westminster where no negotiating seems to be happening.

Does Ieuan Wyn Jones want the same deal for Wales as Alex Salmond has got for Scotland? After all, Carwyn Jones has explained that he doesn't want the same deal and why he doesn't want the same deal, how devolving corporation tax, for instance, would mean a cut in the block grant and could turn into a race to the bottom in terms of tax receipts ... and the worst of both worlds for Wales.

No, Plaid wasn't arguing for the same deal as Scotland. The starting points are so different. But it was wrong, said his former Deputy, that the First Minister "hasn't changed his position one jot despite what has happened in Scotland since May's election".

On another issue: if there's a picket line of PCS members outside the Assembly on Thursday, will Plaid members stay away or cross that line?

It will be up to each AM but don't expect anyone to cross the picket line - especially as there's no business on a Thursday.

Conservatives

Their main line of attack was on education.

Paul Davies laid out the argument that education in Wales "is not in great shape".

Angela Burns took that argument between her teeth and shook it.

The Independent Task and Finish Group's report, "The Structure of Education Services in Wales" confirms what her party has been arguing for years - that if schools were funded directly, they'd be better and do better.

Leighton Andrews ought to accept it, she said and though the report stops short of recommending 100% direct funding, the Tory group absolutely welcome the fact that the group "plainly support this principle".

On the leadership race Paul Davies reminded us that he remained neutral. Got it? Did he accept that it had barely registered with people up and down the country? He didn't. "There's a lot of interest out there" and certainly there had been a great response from party members. Was it true that a dozen people turned up to the hustings in Aberystwyth? He didn't know but promised to find out. I'll keep you posted.* It'll be no surprise to the interim leader, I'm sure, that that bit of party gossip came from the London end of the M4.

What about Thursday's strike and that picket line? Tory AMs will be in work said the interim leader. "Our job is to represent the people of Wales. We will be here in our place of work". It could be a lonely place for them.

Liberal Democrats

Education is the focus of their debate in the chamber tomorrow, education was the focus of the briefing this morning and it was the Education Minister who was the focus of their "disappointment" for making a speech about his plans "yet again" in a speech outside the chamber.

The Liberal Democrats want cross party support for a motion that wants to improve performance by:

  • Attacking the spending gap and tarteging additional money at pupils who need it most
  • Investing in new training for teachers
  • Updating the national curiculum so that it focuses on key skills
  • Ordering a full, independent review of the governance of schools
  • Improving the transition between pupils from primary to secondary school

Impact must be key to policy decisions, said Kirsty Williams in response to a question about the government's decision to scrap the coalition laptop pilot first, then evaluate whether - or not - it had been worthwhile.

"Perhaps when money was sloshing about they could afford to act like this. Now they just can't chop and change without looking at impact". Angela Burns agreed by the way despite always believing it was "a bonkers idea." In other words even bonkers is worth evaluating if you've already spent the money.

What of the Lib Dem two - and Labour's scepticism about Aled Roberts' claim that the Welsh language website he checked was out of date and therefore wrong - unlike the English version which was up to date. "Well put it like this: do you believe him? "said a Labour source last week.

Kirsty Williams does. "Aled's first language is Welsh. His communication on this was all in Welsh. His answers back were all in Welsh. I absolutely believe him when he says that".

The Lib Dem 2 pendulum is, I'm told by one non-Lib Dem source, swinging back towards the more positive outcome the're hoping for - but swinging back isn't enough of course. By the time the issue allowing Aled Roberts and John Dixon to take their seats is put to a (free) vote in the chamber, the pendulum needs to cross the half way mark and give them majority support.

By the way - one last thing. Today the Electoral Commission has published who spent what on their campaigns in the run up to the March referendum.

I haven't been through them properly yet but I can tell you that Yes spent a lot more than No and the True Wales inflatable pig - was bought from a Mr Wilson for £385.20. Bargain.

* I promised to keep you posted on the number of Conservative party members who turned up to the leadership hustings in Aberystwyth.

According to a party source they "haven't got a record of exactly how many people attended each Hustings event" - fair play - but Aberystwyth had the lowest attendance according to the two men who turned up to woo the audience and our estimate of a dozen "is probably about right".