Page last updated at 15:10 GMT, Sunday, 13 July 2008 16:10 UK

Crunch trumps convention for MPs

By David Cornock
BBC Wales parliamentary correspondent

Man taking 20 note from a wallet
Don Touhig says most people are more concerned about making ends meet

The price of oil has gone through the roof, the credit crunch is biting, jobs are being lost as the economy slows down, and Labour is 20 points behind in the opinion polls with Gordon Brown's future looking uncertain.

So it's probably true to say that the All Wales Convention isn't quite as high on the radar of Labour backbenchers at Westminster as its executive members might hope.

I asked one usually media-friendly MP whether he had any views on the convention, its role and challenges facing it. "None at all, sorry!" came the friendly, if speedy reply.

Another MP involved in drawing up the convention's terms of reference e-mailed drily: "I have no further comment to make".

What [people in Wales] are most concerned about is public services, health, education, the economy... these are the things we should be addressing in Wales, not this peripheral nonsense
Don Touhig MP, Labour

Those MPs most exercised about the convention are those who would vote no in any referendum. David Davies, the anti-devolution former AM who is now MP for Monmouth, has described it as "a publicly-funded yes campaign".

Meanwhile, former Wales Office minister Don Touhig said it was an excuse to waste public money.

He told BBC Wales: "While hard-working Welsh housewives find it difficult to make ends meet when they shop every week and Welsh men and women going to work having difficulty paying to fill up their cars with petrol, the assembly decides it can waste public money on this useless exercise of navel-gazing when no-one really raises these issues.

'Perfectly legitimate'

"This is a political cul-de sac. Nobody in 'high street Wales' is talking about 'gosh, the convention might come to Bangor, the convention might come to Crumlin to ask our views'.

"What they're most concerned about is public services, health, education, the economy. These are the things we should be addressing in Wales, not this peripheral nonsense."

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But Plaid Cymru MP Adam Price, a driving force behind the coalition assembly government that led to the convention, believes it is part of an exciting process.

"I believe it is perfectly legitimate for a government to use a body like the convention to engage with the people it represents," he says.

"It's about trying to involve civil society in how we get from where we are to a properly constituted parliament for Wales.

"This is about the new politics, not the old politics. It is not for MPs and AMs to dictate to the convention how it should operate."

Old politics or not, the convention is due to report by the end of next year - just months before the last possible date for Gordon Brown to hold a general election.

By then, many MPs will be more pre-occupied by whether Mr Brown is still in a job, and their own job prospects as they prepare to face the voters.

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