Boston

The six MPs were back together this morning under the guidance of World Boston who are managing the Massachusetts leg of the trip.  The first visit of the day was to the Kennedy School of Government which was established as a permanent and positive tribute to John F. Kennedy using a combination of funds raised in the wake of his tragic death and family contributions.

An overview of the work of the centre was provided by Trey Grayson, the Director of the Institute of Politics at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.  A former Kentucky Secretary of State, Trey has also been the Chair of the Secretary of States Associations and the Republican Secretary of States grouping.  He lost a senatorial race in Kentucky against Ron Paul’s son last November and decided on a move into academia.  He is well suited to the role and gave us an excellent overview of the complexity of the state and federal structure within the US and also an interesting insight into the Presidential election in November.  Again the point was made that whilst Obama is ahead it is doubtful if he is ahead by enough.  A key point made by Trey was that the people were willing to consider a change but had not decided whether Mitt Romney was the change that they want.  We shall see.

The next session was with Edward Glaeser, Professor of Economics at Harvard.  He was superb and highlighted the competitive nature of the US state system in terms of attempting to attract investment and putting in place a business friendly environment.  Anybody who doubts the influence of trade unions on the opportunities for growth would be surprised at the emphasis placed by Professor Glaeser on the success of ‘right to work’ states when compared with the more unionised states of the North Eastern seaboard.  In simple terms the southern and western states of the US are cleaning up on internal and external investment because of their low regulation and can-do attitude towards providing a highly skilled and flexible workforce.

When I compared this with the single union deal secured by Nissan at Sunderland which has since become the norm within the car industry in the UK Professor Glaeser did back down slightly on his views that unions were bad for business but undoubtedly flexible and responsible union leaders are crucial if western economies are to continue to attract large scale industrial projects.  The UK car industry exporting and producing more vehicles than ever before are a testament to why the antiquated trade union model results in empty and failing cities such as Detroit.

Following these two sessions we enjoyed a quick tour of the Harvard Campus which is undoubtedly as stunning and inspiring a setting for learning as you could care to imagine.  With over fifty educational establishments within the greater Boston area it is easy to see why a modern economy does benefit from a significant interaction between the knowledge economy and industry.  After a quick lunch we headed to the Massachusetts State House to meet the State Senators and Representatives and see how the state system works at ground level.

The State House is impressive both externally and internally and it was a pleasure to meet with Therese Murray, the first female President of the Massachusetts.  The State Senate consists of forty members of which 36 are currently democrats and despite the election of the odd republican governor and the current US Senator, Scott Brown who won the Senate seat vacated by the death of Edward Kennedy, Massachusetts is not a happy hunting ground for the Republican Party. 

Whilst there are many Conservatives who are sympathetic to the Democrats it was noticeable that when the six of us were introduced to the Senators the four republicans seemed very pleased to meet what they described as fellow Conservatives.  It was therefore very funny when Nadhim Zahawi was introduced by the President of the Senate as the MP who challenges the Prime Minister most at every PMQ session.  Much to our amusement this comment was met by a spontaneous round of applause from the Democratic Party senators which is odd when you consider that Nadhim is often seen as a leading light of the Cameroon set on the back benches (he will not be there for long though if promotion is offered on merit!)

After a quick tour of the State House we crossed to the Department of Economic Development and Housing to meet Gregory Bialecki, the Secretary for Housing and Economic Development.  A political appointee who assumed his position upon the election of the current Governor,  he is a man with a significant private sector background and offered us an impressive insight into the way in which Massachusetts sells itself within the economic arena.  Whilst selling a city region with such a significant advantage in terms of the knowledge economy might be seen as an easy proposition in comparison with the task of selling Wales, it was significant in my view to hear the extent of the commitment that Secretary Bialecki had to spreading prosperity throughout the State.  After all, this is a state of six and a half million people and an area almost 28% larger than Wales.  It would appear to me that a state in the free market economy of the US makes a significant better effort at Government sponsored intervention to ensure a more equal distribution of economic activity than what we can claim here in Wales under a Labour administration in Cardiff Bay.

Finally, after an hour to refresh in the hotel,  we had another evening meeting local people through the efforts of Boston Global.  Once again it was a very useful opportunity to meet and listen to the views of non official America and to put a context upon what we had learned during the day.  It was also good to meet a graduate of Aberystwyth University who had emigrated as a result of finding an American wife and who had a brother living in Penmachno!  It’s a small world.   I was also delighted to meet a couple that proved that Republicans and Democrats do not need to be at each other’s throats.  He was a registered Republican and she was a registered Democrat but with an attitude which would be useful on Capitol Hill, they had agreed to disagree,  as there were more important matters in their lives.