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LGC FEATURE - VALLEY TROUBLES

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Much has changed in Wales since the last general election - not particularly for the better if you are a Labour sup...
Much has changed in Wales since the last general election - not particularly for the better if you are a Labour supporter. J Barry jones looks at how devolution has altered the Welsh political landscape
With an elected Welsh National Assembly, a cabinet, a first minister, and identifiably Welsh policies on health and education, will the general election be relevant in Wales?
The answer is a resounding yes. The devolution settlement extended only to executive devolution in Wales. Consequently, Wales still looks to Westminster for its primary legislation, with the Welsh secretary negotiating block grant and ensuring the Welsh interest is fully taken into account in Cabinet discussions.
But the political situation in Wales has changed. Labour - long the dominant political force in Wales - is under pressure in its electoral heartlands.
In the first National Assembly election in May 1999, Labour failed to win an overall majority, lost the ultra-safe seats of Rhondda, Islwyn - former party leader Neil Kinnock's old seat - and Llanelli, and saw Plaid Cymru emerge as the second party in Wales.
The major question of this election is whether the Labour Party will frustrate Plaid Cymru's challenge in the valleys. The polling evidence suggests it will, but it could be close.
The Assembly elections had a low turnout and there is evidence that Welsh voters recognised the difference between a general election and an Assembly election concerned solely with Welsh issues. We will have to see how far this electoral mountain has moved.
Some traditional Welsh issues will undoubtedly re-emerge in this general election. For example, the loss of thousands of steel-workers' jobs in Llanwern, Ebbw Vale and Shotton as a result of cutbacks by Corus suggests devolution has changed little in terms of economic fundamentals.
Other issues will purely be the product of devolution. Plaid Cymru will demand more powers for the Assembly, to match those exercised by the Scottish Parliament. And there will be voices in all parties supporting a review of the Barnett funding formula.
Like many English councils, there is a consensus that the formula works only to Scotland's advantage. But it is doubtful whether those constitutional issues will mean anything to the Welsh electorate.
One issue which might excite the electorate is the Labour/Liberal Democrat Assembly coalition. This has caused hostility among Labour councillors who have condemned the deal on proportional representation for council elections. This, they believe, is a concession too far.
There was some disquiet that Mike German, the Lib Dem leader, should not only enjoy the status of deputy first minister but be responsible for economic development too.
In mid-October, soon after the coalition agreement, allegations centred on Mr German's previous job as head of the European unit of the Welsh Joint Education Committee - the examination standards body in Wales, set up by and responsible to Welsh councils. The allegations related to mismanagement and could result in repayment of£1m to the European Commission. Mr German has claimed he is the victim of a smear campaign by 'certain factions' in the Labour Party opposed to the coalition.
How important this issue will be and whether it will adversely affect Liberal Democrat candidates will not be known until 8 June. Clearly some things in post-devolution Wales do not change.
-J Barry Jones, Welsh Governance Centre, Cardiff University.
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