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Henry Hill is a British Conservative and Unionist activist and writerHe is also editor of the non-party website Open Unionism, which can be followed on Twitter here.

Jones sacks minister for seeking confidential information on opposition leaders

Carwyn Jones, the First Minister of Wales, has flat-out fired a member of his devolved cabinet. Alun Davies, the Blaenau Gwent AM who was minister for the Natural Resources and Food portfolio, had attempted to use his government position to acquire confidential financial information about key members of the opposition.

The information related to payments received under the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy. Targets included Tory leader Andrew RT Davies, Liberal Democrat leader Kirsty Williams, as well as the Plaid Cymru environment spokesman and two more AMs, one Liberal Democrat and one Conservative. You can read the text of the emails in question here.

The series of events surrounding Davies’ sacking was described by Wales Online’s chief reporter, Martin Shipton, as “one of the most spectacular events since the National Assembly was set up”, and that the context of the dismissal is unique in the history of Welsh politics. He writes:

“Here we have a Minister judged by Wales’ top civil servant to have broken the Ministerial Code, then reprieved by the First Minister on what many have seen as flimsy grounds, and finally forced out of the Cabinet ignominiously after being reported for further unministerial conduct by his own Private Secretary.”

The first incident to which Shipton refers relates to accusations that Davies leant on an environmental body that answered to his ministry. Jones kept him in the cabinet despite acknowledging a “clear” breach of the ministerial code.

Astonishingly, Davies apparently pursued his attempt to get his opponents’ private financial information – despite a clear rebuke from his senior officials, who subsequently reported him to the First Minister – the day after Jones granted him a reprieve over his previous misconduct.

Conservatives leader Andrew RT Davies has accused (the other) Davies of “gross misconduct” and written to the Standards Commissioner to make “the case that this person may not be a fit and proper person to hold elected office.” He also claims the scandal raises more questions about Jones’ administration.

Wales flagP.S. I’ve had other things to focus on this week, but don’t think there wasn’t another chapter in the Welsh public services saga. Carwyn Jones has concluded that Welsh public services are in the state they’re in because of structural defects that predate devolution, which he can’t fix because Westminster hasn’t given him enough money and power yet. By way of scathing rebuttal, I simply offer you last week’s column. Or the one before that.

Meanwhile, Shadow Welsh Secretary Owen Smith has written a public letter to David Cameron accusing him of ‘undermining the Welsh nation’ in PMQs. Given the sort of vitriol levelled at “Tory England” by Labour politicians in the devolved territories to justify fresh expansions in their own power, that they have the nerve to mimic Alex Salmond’s tactic of conflating himself with the nation and decrying his critics for “talking Scotland down” takes no little gall.

For an in-depth look at why the notion that criticising Welsh Labour is equivalent to attacking Wales is nonsense, I again refer you to last week’s column.

Threat of violence mars Orange Order on both sides of the water as the Twelfth looms

Orange OrderThe Orange Order has become the focus of attention on both sides of the North Channel this week. The loyalist organisation, which has branches around the world but is headquartered and concentrated in Ulster, faces the risk of a Scotland-wide ban on marching and has been at the centre of a breakdown in relations between the unionist parties and Northern Ireland’s Parades Commission.

In Scotland, Labour MP for East Renfrewshire Jim Murphy has called for a march scheduled ahead of the independence referendum to be banned, with the Daily Record holding a poll to gauge support for a complete ban on such events. This comes after 28 people were arrested for public order offenses during ‘Orange walks’ in Glasgow and Blantyre at the weekend.

With the biggest date in the Orangeman’s calendar – July 12 – falling this Saturday, the Order have defended their right to march and denied any suggestion that they condone anti-social behaviour. Although not part of the Better Together campaign the Order is staunchly pro-Union and plans to hold a ‘British Together’ rally in Edinburgh in the week before the poll, if Murphy doesn’t ban it first.

Meanwhile in Northern Ireland a similar issue has brought the devolved government to the brink of a crisis. A decision by the independent Parades Commission to bar a Twelfth of July ‘feeder march’ from passing through an area in Ardoyne has

It already prompted a walk-out by every unionist party represented at Stormont. Such is the breadth of this coalition that a joint statement included both the Progressive Unionists, formally linked to the UVF loyalist paramilitary faction, and the Ulster Political Research Group, which until 2001 operated as the Ulster Democratic Party and has similar links to the UDA.

The parties claim that the ruling treated with contempt the advice of the unionist parties and shows “the commission members place no value on a relationship with unionism”.

Both London and Dublin have reportedly discussed the issue. The Twelfth of July is the traditional high point of the Orange year (even being listed as ‘Orangemen’s Day’ on my Google calendar), and in the past contentious parade routes have often provided a spark for fierce inter-communal violence. The 2012-13 flag protests have amply demonstrated the potential volatility of such symbolic issues, and despite coming from very different political positions it is in no side’s interests to unleash that whirlwind again.

Welsh Labour constituency party goes ‘on strike’ over all-women shortlist

LABOUR dead roseSpeaking of Blaenau Gwent, I was put in mind of it this week when I read that another Welsh Labour attempt to impose an all-women shortlists has devolved into a nasty row. Cynon Valley MP Ann Clwyd is standing down in 2015, and Labour have imposed an all-women shortlist to find her successor.

Yet the local association are insistent that they will not select a candidate using this method, insisting they want “the best candidate regardless of gender”. After the central party reaffirmed their original decision in writing and said that it would not be changing, Cynon Valley CLP have chosen a very Labour response indeed. Alun Williams, their secretary, told the BBC:

“While the party is talking about politics from the grassroots up they are ignoring the genuine concerns of their members in Cynon Valley.

“We have therefore decided to ‘go on strike’. We will not provide a procedures secretary, a selection committee or arrange the hustings meetings or correspondence to members for an all-women shortlist selection. We are still deeply disturbed at the failure to respond to our concerns.”

First Minister Jones has supported Labour’s decision, although Clwyd has not – despite claiming not to want to influence, she said it should be “up to the people in the party locally to make their own decision.”

Why does all this put me in mind of Blaenau Gwent? Because in 2005 Labour lost the seat to independent candidate Peter Law, a former Labour AM who resigned from the party over all-women shortlists. When Law died in 2006 his anointed successors held both his Assembly and his Parliamentary seats. Could the rebellious Cynon Valley CLP attempt to follow in his footsteps?

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