Sunday, December 31, 2006

Cardiff Bay Reflections Annual Awards - 2007

AM of the year
Sue Essex - No hesitation. Has been 'virtual' First Minister for the last two years. A real 'power behind the throne'. Her retirement in May will be a real loss to Welsh politics

Welsh Politician of the year
Sue Essex - see above.

UK Politician of the year.
David Cameron - He has changed British politics and given a real prospect of victory to my party. And he has put 'the environment' at the heart of British politics. David has a big year coming up as he moves on to firming up policy and taking on Gordon Brown.

Journalist of the year.
Martin Shipton - Walked this competition in 2005 but there was much tougher competition in 2006. The David Kelly effect is finally wearing off. On ITV, Lee Waters grew into a searching interviewer - and I enjoyed Rhianydd Richard's grilling of IWJ after his change of position on the Assembly budget. Martin really crucifies hypocrits and has really got under the skin of the Assembly Government's spin machine.

Welsh sportsperson of the year.
Nicole Cooke - with Joe Calzaghe a close second.

UK sportsperson of the year
Nicole Cooke - with Joe Calzaghe a close second.

World sportsperson of the year.
Ritchie McCaw - with Shane Warne a close second

Political entertainer of the year
Lembit Opik - Established himself as the frontrunner during the Lib-Dem leadership election in January and blew the opposition away with his own very public and personal bonding session to welcome Romania and her people to the EU in December. A favorite to retain the title next year.

Political row of the year.
Joint winners - Dafydd Elis-Thomas and John Marek. Tomos Livingstone gave this award to Peter Hain and Elfyn Llwyd. These two Westminster MPs were mere clumsy amateurs. For sheer cut and thrust, elegance of phrase and subtlety of put-down there was no contest. Tomos called this one wrong.

Political mistake of the year.
Ieuan Wyn Jones - No contest. Only one winner. Leading Nick Bourne and Mike German into a press conference to announce that he was going to vote against the final Assembly budget without being prepared to accept the position of First Minister if Rhodri resigned was a big, big mistake. Sue Essex saw through that one immediately and gave IWJ only the tiniest of fig leaves to cover his embarrassment as he led his party into the abstention lobby.

Welsh political event of the year.
Formal opening of The Sennedd by HMS, the Queen.

UK political event of the year.
Tony Blair's interview by the police over 'loans for honours'.

World political event of the year.
Execution of Saddam Hussein.

Brass neck of the year.
Glyn Davies - I had thought about giving this award to Alun Cairns for describing himself as a fashion trendsetter - but in the end I gave it to myself for presenting a half hour video introducing young people to the architectural masterpiece, which is the Sennedd. The video ran over and over again on screens throughout the building at the official opening. Bearing in mind that I had led the opposition to the project up until it had been started, even I felt a touch shame-faced.

Welsh personality of the year.
Clive Rowlands - No contest.
Rugby legend and personal hero. Former Wales captain and coach. Heroic recovery from colorectal cancer - with willingness to help promote awareness. And he made a brilliantly funny speech at the wonderful evening's tribute to the Pontypool Front Row in the Coal Exchange this summeer, without using any profane language. Clive is a truly great Welshman and I am proud to know him.

And finally, - I would like to congratulate my old mate, Mick Bates on winning the Wales on Sunday 'Buffoon of the Year' title - courtesy of Matt Withers. I wonder how many times one has to win this 'perpetual' award to be allowed to hold the title on a permanent basis.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Swan Lake on Ice

It's a fabulous show. We went to see it last night. It's the best production that I've been to at the Millenium Centre. It's the Imperial Ice Stars performance of Swan Lake on Ice. Not to be missed.

Prince Siegfried and his best mate, Benno put me in mind of David Cameron and George Osborne. The heroic prince took some time to look at his options before deciding on which way to go, and then made the right choice - and then it was a case of 'happy ever after'. Personally, I'd have made the wrong choice. Odile, the Black Swan appeals to me more than Odette, the goody-goody White Swan - just as I prefer the Charlotte Church image to the Katherine Jenkins image. There is something irresistable about taking the less safe option.

The show really took off when the evil Rothbart came on stage. For me he was the star of the show - dressed in threatening black and full of menace and brilliant skating. Rothbart was bursting with talent but was undone by hubris. Reminded me of Rod Richards. Its a pity Tchaikovsky didn't live to create a sequel called 'Revenge of the Black Swan'.

Message from Catalonia.

Thanks go to Dylan Jones-Evans, our seriously talented Assembly candidate in Aberconwy, for directing me to an interesting piece by Matthew Parris in today's Times. The article outlined how the Catalonian centre-right party, Partido Popular has lost its status as a leading political force in Catalonia over recent years as a result of 'turning its back' on the reality of regional nationhood. Matthew's point is that the same can be said about the Conservative Party in Scotland. I see no reason why the same analysis shouldn't apply to Wales as well.

There can no longer be any doubt that Welsh 'nationhood' is going to develop further and Wales' capacity to take responsibility for herself through her own National Assembly is going to develop further as well. Before the referendum held on Sept. 18th, 1997, I could see logic in opposing devolution. There was so much uncertainty about how the proposed constitutional change would work out that there was bound to be nervousness amongst Conservatives. But the sky hasn't fallen in. And every statistically sound poll tells us that the Assembly is here to stay. Since the referendum 'Yes' vote, I have favoured moving forwards to the Scottish model of devolution in Wales. It remains the only policy that makes any sense to me. Anything else is a 'self-imposed exile to the political wilderness'.

What really frustrates me is the assumption held by some in my party that there is something 'unconservative' about backing further devolution. There isn't. Across the world, centre-right parties are the 'champions' of regional 'nationhood', the great promoters of threatened 'minority' cultures and the defenders of individual's rights to live through the language of their choice. At times in the past, the Conservative Party has actually been pro-devolution. Somehow, we've managed to manoeuvre ourselves onto the wrong side of this debate. Matthew Parris is telling us that it would be a politically smart idea to manoeuvre ourselves back onto the right side. Over the last year or so we've made a good start. There is still a bit to go.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Mike German Talking Sense

The title of this post will shock my friends in Cardiff Bay - and for two reasons. Firstly, that the leader of the Lib-Dems should talk sense - and secondly that I would be willing to go public on it. But since I decided that for democracy to become meaningful in Wales, there has to be at least the prospect of a non-Labour Government, I realised that we Tories must open our minds to working with Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats. This means that I must set aside a lifetime of tribal antipathy to Liberals (under whatever banner they are selling themselves) and acknowledge that it is possible for them to say sensible things - sometimes. The MP, Vince Cable has played a big part in this.

In today's Western Mail, Martin Shipton reports that Mike German is looking to be back in his ministerial car again next May. He is quoted as saying "My goal is to in Government next May - because that is where politics can change things". Now, in practical terms this can only mean one of two scenarios. Either Mike is looking for another Lib-Lab Pact (which he will find difficult to sell to his party without an absolute committment to proportional representation in local government - which Labour will never accept) or it means a 'Rainbow Coalition' with Tories and Plaid Cymru.

I still believe this to be a possibility. And so does Mike German. As Martin Shipton writes, 'it is the mathematics that will decide the make-up of the post-May Assembly Goverment'. In his New Year Message Mike German rightly says "Widespread discontent with Labour's directionless solo four years in the Assembly mean there are opportunities for all opposition parties at this election". All we need now is the same pragmatic grown-up approach from Plaid Cymru.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

A Spark amongst The Ashes

Celia Walden in today's Telegraph quotes England Cricket Captain, Freddie Flintoff thus:

"My team-mate Mathew Hoggard called the Prime Minister a nob when we were celebrating winning the ashes at a Downing St. function, and do you know what? That's the first thing Hoggy's got right in a while. Blair is a nob".

Blair could respond from his luxurious Bee Gees 'cheapy' holiday hideout, "And I'm not the only one"

I suggest that for the last test at the SCG, Freddie pins up a 'spoof' bowling master plan on the dressing room noticeboard. Something like "Mathew Hayden - start with a long hop towards 2nd slip like Harmison bowled in the First Test, then two easy-to-hit slower balls down the leg side to create over-confidence, and then smash the 4th ball into his box". Should work better than the last master plan.

Less NHS Spending in Wales

Just back from the BBC studio in Newtown where I did an interview with Gary Owen on Post Cynta about NHS spending in Wales. Parliamentary answers to Conservative questions at Westminster show that less money per head is being spent on healthcare in Wales than England, Scotland or Northern Ireland - reversing the position that existed before 2001/2002 when Wales spent more per head than either England or Northern Ireland. In 1997, £60 per head more was being spent on healthcare in Wales than England and £90 more per head than in Northern Ireland. Last year, £80 less per head was being spent on healthcare in Wales than England and £130 less in Northern Ireland. Scotland was and remains the highest spending Country in the UK.

"I was really surprised to learn how much less money per head is being invested in the NHS in Wales than in England, Scotland or Northern Ireland. Wales has dropped from 2nd place to last place in the UK spending per head league over the last 4 years. Now, we know why the NHS in Wales has been falling behind other UK countries - and why waiting times and waiting lists are so much longer in Wales.

The Assembly budget has just been set for next year, so the position cannot be put right immediately. But a higher priority and more money will have to be invested in the NHS in Wales when the Assembly decides on its budget in 12 months time.

It is just not acceptable that Welsh patients should be so disadvantaged, when compared with patients over the border in England. The 'NHS investment gap' between England and Wales must be closed. This will be a major challenge for whichever party or parties take over the Government of Wales from next May".

I really enjoyed this morning's interview. It was the first time that Gary Owen made no allowance at all for the inadaquacy of my ability to speak Welsh. He just went for it. I do not think I can any longer describe myself as a Welsh Language 'learner'.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Rainbow Coalitions - The Case For.

I see that ThinkScotland, a right-of-centre 'thinktank' is being extensively reported in today's Herald as recommending the Scottish Tories to contemplate a 'rainbow coalition' with the SNP and the Green Party to form a Scottish Government after the Scottish Parliamentary elections next May. This seems to me to be sound thinking, which has more than a passing relevance to Wales.

If democracy is to become at all meaningful in either Scotland or Wales, there must be some prospect of a non-Labour Government. Unless there is a seismic shift in voting patterns, this cannot occur unless there is some form of agreement between the SNP and the Tories in Scotland - and between Plaid Cymru and the Tories in Wales. It may suit the short-term electoral strategy of both the SNP and Plaid Cymru to paint the Tories as right-wing anti-devolutionists but the reality is that over the last 7 years, the Tories in both Scotland and Wales have changed beyond recognition from the anti-devolution Tories of 1997. Many of us see making a success of devolution as the best way to strenghthen the union. There is a lot more common ground than one might think.

The next 4 months are going to be an interesting period in Scottish and Welsh politics. Every party will be seeking to portray itself as distinctive, while striving to maximise the number of MSPs and AMs - while at the same time assessing how the arithmatic is going to work out. Things look particularly interesting in Scotland because current polls indicate that the ruling Labour/Lib Dem coalition will not have enough seats to carry on - and the Tories may finish up as power brokers.

So what is going to happen in Wales. It seems likely that Labour is going to lose several seats and be unable to continue as a minority government. For political reasons, I cannot rule out the prospect of the Tories winning over half the seats but (and I hope that I will not be portrayed as unduly defeatist) I do concede the possibility that we might not quite make it this time. Surely, neither the Lib Dems nor Plaid Cymru will want to keep a defeated Rhodri Morgan in office. I just have this feeling that the Welsh Conservatives will be an important part of in the shake-up come next May.

Lord Hussey of North Bradley 1924 - 2007

I met Marmaduke Hussey only once. We talked for a long time on the lawn at Bodesgallen, Nr Llandudno. He made a big impression on me - as he did on everyone he met.

I recall referring to the latest 'crisis' that was engulfing the BBC, of which he was the Thatcher-appointed Chair, at that time. Marmaduke Hussey just smiled and said that he remembered when the Germans blew his leg off at Anzio and took him prisoner. Now that was what he thought of as a crisis!

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Tally-Ho For Ever

Went down to the Boxing Day meet at Welshpool this morning. What magnificent defiance. 40 horses, a pack of hounds and 1000 people looking on, just to show their support. Like many of the crowd, I had no interest whatsoever in foxhunting until it was banned - with the inevitable increase in cruelty to our wildlife that the ban has brought. I went to Welshpool to offer my support last year for the first time, because it was the first Boxing Day after the ban. I had expected that the numbers of supporters would have fallen off this year - but No! The people of Montgomeryshire are as angry as ever.

There are still some people who refuse to accept that the ban on hunting with dogs has actually increased cruelty to foxes. They are in denial, of course. But then, country folk always knew that the ban had nothing whatsoever to do with animal welfare. I have talked to a few opponents of foxhunting who now openly admit that their determination to ban hunting was nothing to do with animal welfare at all. Probably the most culpable organisation of all was the R.S.P.C.A. who receive donations from people who believe that they are contributing to the welfare of animals. If only. I just hope that the sensible way in which the law is currently being enforced will eventually reduce the incidence of the horrifically cruel and illegal snaring and amateurish shooting that is going on.

And where was Lembit Opik this year. Although he was in favour of banning foxhunting until he moved to Montgomeryshire 10 years ago, he has become a steadfast supporter of the hunt and has been a regular at the local Boxing Day hunt for a while now. He must have other fish to fry this year!

Happy Christmas

Following all the fuss, I have been checking our Xmas cards to note how many of the senders have dropped any reference to Christmas. Almost all of them wish us a 'Happy Christmas'.So, we wouldn't have needed to throw many away, even if I was as miserably principled as some of my favourite writers who find 'Season's Greetings' unacceptable.

And depressingly, I note that top blogger Iain Dale condemns those who use pre-printed labels on Xmas card envelopes. It would have taken me hours to write out the 400 addresses on the cards that we sent - and I would not have had time to write personal comments on the cards. In any case, I suspect that some of the 'written by hand' envelopes are actually written by secretaries. An interesting question is whether Iain would prefer to receive an envelope with a sticky label which had been stuck on by the sender- or one handwritten by the sender's secretary!

And now I read about Xmas cards which look as if they have been signed - but which have in fact only been 'stamped' with a realistic 'signiature'. In particular, David Cameron is reported to have sent both 'stamped' and 'signed' cards which look identical. I'd assumed that our card from our leader had been personally signed because it looked so realistic with 'David' and 'Samantha' written in different coloured inks. Surely not stamped? Anyway, I do not want to know! As far as I'm concerned, I have a rugby shirt, personally signed by Gordon Brown and a Christmas card, personally signed by David and Samantha Cameron.

Happy Christmas.

Our Son Was There

No 2 son, Patrick was at the Melbourne Cricket Ground yesterday to see Shane Warne clean bowl Andrew Strauss to take his 700th test wicket - and then take yet another 5 wicket haul on an unhelpful pitch. Poor Strauss will join Gatting in the history books as landmark victims of the great man. Patrick rang us on Xmas day, just after landing in Melbourne. He was bound to be really tired today. I just hope he hadn't nodded off when the fateful ball was bowled.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Hypocracy on the Sports Pages.

I was much distressed last night - watching the Blues/Ospreys game on S4C. Good game. Didn't mind who won. And then Martyn Williams gets the red card. Disaster. Martyn Williams is no Ritchie McCaw but is the best openside Wales has got - and now he will be banned for the start of the 6 Nations. The incident set me off on one of my pet causes - a cause where I admit almost no-one agrees with me.

I was probably the only football fan who thinks Zinadine Zidane was fully justified in head-butting the Italian moron in the World Cup Final, who wound him up by profanely insulting his loved ones. I grudgingly accept that he should have been shown the red card - but the frenzy of hypocritical condemnation that flooded the media cut no ice with me at all. It seems that its OK to insult a man's wife and family and boost about what sexual indignities should be visited on a man's wife and sister in the most graphic terms - but its not OK to headbutt the despicable moron who utters the words. Well, just as I supported John Prescott when he thumped the yob who hit him in the face with an egg during a General Election campaign, all of my sympathy was with Zidane. I have the same attitude to politics. A straightforward attack in the open is fair enough. Politics is a brutal business sometimes. Its the sneaky, behind the back briefing that I can't stand.

Last night, the Ospreys Jason Spice just gratuitously clipped Martyn across the ear, behind the referee's back, for no reason at all. It was a tense game and Martyn saw red - and 'brushed his forehead' against Spice's face. And Wales loses a key player for the start of the 6 Nations. If I'd been the referee, I would have accepted that Martyn deserved a yellow for loss of control - and I would have given Spice a red card for gratuitous spite. I am really glad that Cardiff Blues won.

Lembit Update 4.

The world of jounalism has gone completely 'bonkers'. Even my Sunday Telegraph has joined in with a half page profile of Gabriela's new boyfriend, together with a specially commissioned and rather good cartoon. And the MoS has pages of 'Friends of Sian' rubbishing our newly discovered, so called 'super-charged sex god'.

For over 10 years, I have done all that I can to persuade the people of Montgomeryshire not to vote for Lembit Opik. I have not thought him to be the right man to follow in the footsteps of Clement Davies, Emlyn Hooson and Alex Carlile. I have not been able to think of him as anything but a camara chasing publicist who will do almost anything to promote his personal 'celebrity'. But the negative publicity he is getting at present is way over the top. It is beginning to look a bit unfair.

As far as I can see he hasn't actually done anything wrong. He is a 41 year old single bloke - who seems to like a 'trophy' girlfriend on his arm. His fiancee in '97, when I contested the General Election against him was named Sam - a very attractive girl she was too. And then Sian was a 'celebrity' in her own right. And now Gabriela Irimia is also something of a celebrity, who seems to think that she has finally found true love. (Well not a pantomime, anyway). As long as he didn't break the rules on the visa application issue, I cannot see what all the fuss is about. All he has done is give us all a bloody good laugh, provide bloggers and journos with a wealth of material, and brought great joy to us all in this festive season. It took a special line in comical-ness to outdo the Bishop of Southwark this Xmas - but Lembit's managed it. I just hope that not too much of the ridicule rubs off on my home county of Montgomeryshire.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Only Labour Faces Fit

Today's Telegraph has a couple of stories which emphasise how important it is to have good 'Labour' credentials if you want recognition of any sort by the current Government. And its not just the continuing 'Cash for Peerages' row which has led to a serving Prime Minister 'helping the police with their enquiries'.

There is a big half page interview with committed Labour man, Ed Richards, who has recently been appointed to be Chief Executive of Ofcom. He is probably a good man - but he is a big Labour man. If he is as competent as his partner, Deleth Evans who was a Labour Assembly Member until the last election he will do. But that is not the point.

I was interested in his reference to "having gone through the Nolan process". The Auditor General for Wales, Jeremy Colman demonstrated his total contempt for the Nolan principles when he simply ignored it completely when appointing a deputy a few weeks back - and justified his decision by saying "what is the point if you have made up your mind already?" Quite! In Wales we saw the same thing with Dai Smith at the Arts Council. Another Labour man helping out the Labour Assembly Government's Culture Minister, Alun Pugh.

None of this would bother me - except that we also read on page 8 that the Culture Minister, Tessa Jowell has vetoed the appointment of Lord Marland as Chair of English Heritage despite his being the best candidate. The problem is that he is a Tory as well as being the best candidate. Ms Jowell has also just appointed former Labour cabinet minister, Chris Smith as Chair of the Advertising Standards Authority and Derek Mapp, a mate of John Prescott as Chair of Sport England.

What is really worrying is that these people do not see anything wrong with what they are doing.

Tribute to Warne

No 2 son off to Australia today, to watch the last two 'Ashes' test matches. When he bought his tickets three months ago he was hoping to be there for the deciding games. Instead, it is all over - and a whitewash beckons. I hope my son appreciates his privileged opportunity to watch the greatest test bowler there has ever been playing in his last two tests before retirement from international cricket. I have never tired of watching Shane Warne in action. It is not just the 700 wickets - but the sheer force of personality than has won so many matches for the Aussies over the last decade. It is ordained that Warne will take wickets at the MCG, (which is his home ground) next week. Patrick will also have the chance to see another truly great bowler, Glenn McGrath play his last test match in the 5th test at the SCG.

Just think how many wickets Warne would have taken if he had not lived a bit on the wild side. My favourite story was about how Michael Vaughan inspired England players to such heights in the '05 series. He just told his players that unless they performed well, he would give Shane the mobile phone numbers of their wives and girlfriends!!

Friday, December 22, 2006

Greetings from Aberystwyth Town Council

I have just received the following greeting from Jim Griffiths of Aberystwyth Town Council.

Please accept with no obligation, implied or implicit, my best wishes for an environmentally concious, socially responsible, low stress, non addictive, gender neutral celebration of the winter soltice holiday, practised with the most enjoyable traditions of religious persuasion or secular practices of your choice with respect for the religious/secular persuasions and/or traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all.

I also wish you a fiscally successful, personally fulfilling and medically uncomplicated holiday in recognition of the onset of the generally accepted calender year 2007, but not without due respect for the calenders of choice of other cultures whose contributions to society have helped make my country great and without regard to the race, creed, colour, age, physical ability, religious faith, sexual preferences of their wishes.

By accepting this greeting, you are accepting these terms: This greeting is subject to clarification or withdrawal. It is freely transferable with no alteration to the original greeting. It implies no promise by the wisher to actually implement any of the wishes for her/himself or others and is void where prohibited by law, and is revocable at the sole discretion of the wisher. This wish is warrented to perform as expected within the usual application of good tidings for a period of one year or until the issuance of a subsequent holiday greeting, whichever comes first, and warrenty is limited to replacement of this wish or issuance of a new wish at the sole discretion of the wisher.

Disclaimer: No trees were harmed in the sending of this message: however a significant number of electrons were inconvenienced.

Lembit Update 3

Mr Tony Jones of Llanidloes has written a letter to the Montgomeryshire County Times, published today. It goes as follows:

Good Luck to Lembit

Amused though we are about Lembit going out with a Cheeky Girl (after all those years trying to create a serious image, she ruins it by going out with a publicity seeking media tart) he hasn't done anything wrong..........

You couldn't make it up!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Supermarket Sense in Powys

I hear that the National Assembly for Wales has 'called in' the planning application for a Tesco supermarket on the old livestock market in Newtown. I also hear that the new Supermarket proposed by Lidl in the town has been given the go ahead.

I think that the National Assembly has taken the right decision in both cases. The public's concern about Powys County Council dealing with a planning application which would deliver £7 million pounds for the Council itself, was fully justified. The Council has a big financial interest. The Council dealing with this application itself simply did not look right. Perhaps the Council will now be free to get on with dealing with the other planning application which have been lying in its in-tray for months - including the supermarket proposal at Welshpool.

I also think it is right that the National Assembly should not interfere in the Lidl application in Newtown - although I am not wholly convinced that this is right for town. The Council have dealt with the Lidl application and decided to approve it (after months of delay) - so I am prepared to accept the Council's judgement. Actually, I do not think that the Council had much alternative but to approve it.

Where I most strongly object is when the Council just delay and delay rather than deal with controversial applications - just hoping that they will go away. The councillors and officers have a duty to take tough decisions - which is what they get paid for.

Update : This blog is keen to post accurate information - but I was misinformed about the National Assembly decision on the Tesco application in Newtown. The application has not been 'called in'. However it remains subject to a 'holding notice' while the Assembly Government considers whether it should be 'called in'. I remain of the view that it should.

Sense Prevails over Powys Orthopaedic Needs

I am very pleased that Powys patients whose appointments for orthopaedic treatment at the Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Hospital at Gobowen up until next April had been cancelled last week, are to have their appointments re-instated. The decision taken last Friday, to cancel all treatment until the next financial year was seriously shocking - and it would have far better if the discussions which have taken place this week and produced agreement between the Hospital and the Powys Local Health Board, had taken place last week.

There is a desperate need for the two organisations to work out a better system of dealing with patients than just holding discussions after desperately needed operations have been cancelled. Powys patients, suffering in serious pain have been on an emotional roller-coaster over the last few days. I hope that such an utterly scandalous disregard for Powys patients never happens again.

I was also very disappointed to receive a Press Release from the Powys LHB this afternoon, seeking to put the blame on the Hospital. I understand that efforts to agree a press statement between the two bodies had failed. This sort of 'childish' behaviour gives me little confidence that we will see a more grown up approach in the future. I just hope that every media outlet throws the LHBs puerile press statement into the waste paper bin- where it belongs. It is powys people that matter - not some official's ego.

Lembit Update 2

I see that Gabriela's new boyfried has been called before the officers of the Montgomeryshire Liberal Democrat Association to account for the management of his love life.

"Now then Lembit, we want to know the details. Did you sleep with Gabriela before you had finished with Sian. And what music did you play while you were - um - how can we put this - um - at it. And are the Cheeky Girls coming to sing at next months joint coffee morning with the local Methodist Chapel."

I haven't seen the verdict yet but I reckon it will be something like

"We have had a positive meeting with Lembit and we are satisfied that he has done absolutely nothing wrong because he - um - told us. He has our total confidence. Lembit has assured us that he is now in a settled relationship which is definitely not part of some pantomime. We wish the happy couple well and hope that their privacy will be respected"

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Lembit Update

Lembit had better sort out Gabiela's mother as well as Rocky, her Irish Wolfhound. It did not look good today hearing Lembit reported as saying that Mrs Irimia had raised Gabriela's right to stay in the UK - and then hearing her deny it. He needs to make sure the impending mother-in-law stays on message. I would be sorry if this aspect of the unfolding drama were to turn into some sort of Hinduja scandal. It would be a real shame if this story became 'serious'.

The Daily Telegraph really must get its act together. Yesterday it had a photograph of Lembit with the two Cheeky Girls and Lembit tells me that my daily read identified the wrong one as Gabriela. Normally, I accept as absolute anything that is printed in the Telegraph but on this matter I have to take Lembit's word for it. But it would be a terrific story if Lembit sometimes gets it wrong himself. Not sure Mrs Irimia would think much of that though.

The Irrepressible Mr Opik

I have just been to a meeting of the 'Save Llanidloes Hospital' campaign. In walked Britain's leading celeb, Lembit Opik. "Hi everyone - and I'll have no 'cheek' from you, Davies". The man is totally irrepressible.

I told Lembit that I was pleased to see that he has made his number with Rocky, Gabriela's Irish Wolfhound. In my experience, sorting out the dog is key to winning a lady's heart. I recall the first time I visited my wife's home, about 40 years ago, I was attacked by the family's vicious Dalmation, named Seamus. I stood my ground and as he went for my throat, I caught him under the jaw with my left boot and as he landed, I gave him some more. Apparently all previous suitors had just run for it. One had been left stranded on top of his mini. Lorraine Barrett may be a tad critical of my action - but it was a case of Seamus or me. You could say that Lembit's approach of patting Rocky on the head was more 'Lib-Dem that my strategy - but the point I make is that the relationship blossomed once the dog and I understood each other. So ,Lembit, this time it could be for real.

I see in today's Telegraph, Jan Moir writes that Lembit is being described as a 'super-charged sex god' who, according to Gabriela, likes making love to music. Jan Moir goes on to describe the Lib-Dems thus - "..the whole sandal-wearing lot of them are as randy as a platoon of Viagra charged polecats on shore leave". She goes on to mention the sexual acheivements of Palmeston, Gladstone and Paddy Ashdown who was renowned for completing the whole performance in less than 10 seconds, a feat only bettered in recent times by Boris Becker at 7 seconds. There is inevitably a competition about what piece of music would be most appropriate as background to the happy couple's bliss - and the 'minute waltz' is an early favourite. The prize is a cast-off umberella.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Day of the Undead - 4th Anniversary

Its 5.30. Exactly 4 yrs ago, I was in the operating theatre at the Shrewsbury Nuffield Hospital undergoing what is called a lower bowel resection. This operation involved the removal of my rectum, anus etc., the stitching up of where my backside had been until 3 hours before and the constuction of a colostomy on my abdomen. When I came around at about 6.30, I was pleased to be still alive. December 19th will always be an emotional day for me. This afternoon I have been telephoning others who have 'enjoyed' a similar experience. We each call 'our' day the 'Day of the Undead'.

It changes a man (and woman). When our Chief Whip tells me something is crucially important, I sometimes have a job to keep a straight face. I do try to follow his 'instuctions' if I can though. William has a job to do.

I wish all visitors to this blog site a Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year.
And make the best of your time. You never know what is around the corner.

No New Hips in Powys

This blog can usually find a 'comical' angle on most stories. But not on what has just happened to Powys people on the waiting list for treatment at the Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital in Gobowen, Shropshire. I had a call last Friday to tell me that the Hospital was stopping any further treatment of Powys patients until the next financial year. This bombshell finally made it to the Welsh media yesterday - despite my telling them last Friday.

There is history behind this. Last year the Hospital treated a lot of 'Powys'patients, for which it was not paid. An 'arbitration' judgement decided that since the commissioning body, Powys Local Health Board had not asked for any treatments beyond the agreed contract sum, they need not be paid for. Immediately the arbitration decision was known, the Chief Executive of the LHB, Andy Williams put out a 'gloating' press statement which I suspect caused real resentment at the Hospital end. At the time, I thought that press statement was crass.

Anyway, the upshot of last year's row was that the LHB took over the waiting list which involves sending patients for treatment rather than the Hospital calling them in when it has spare capacity - this system to operate up to an agreed contract sum of £2.6 million. The best way to manage the system would be for the 'rate of flow' to allow for patients being referred over a 12 month period - but the Hospital tell me that the money has been used up already. Thus the treatment drawbridge being drawn up last Friday. I understand that the LHB dispute the figures.

This is a utterly disgraceful position. The people of Powys will lose faith in the NHS completely. People in agony will be left in the dark about what is going to happen to them. As I type this post I understand discussions are going on at senior executive level between the Orthopaedic Hospital and the LHB. I hope they can sort something out before Xmas because the current position is too awful for any words I can post, to do justice to. I will post an update as soon as I have one.

Monday, December 18, 2006

WRU Breaks Tradition

What on earth is going on at the Welsh Rugby Union. Is nothing sacred. How dare the new Group Chief Executive, Roger Lewis break with one of our most cherished traditions. It is just not on for the resignations of Steve Lewis and Paul Sergeant to be announced without an almighty row. The WRU just does not do resignations in a professional agreed way. It has taken all the fun out of it. That's what you get when you appoint a media man to the top job.

I haven't given up hope of a bit of a rumpus from Steve Lewis though. There was some wriggle room in Roger's interviews for a dash of nastiness to spice things up. I've given up on Paul Sergeant after listening to him oozing 'agreeableness' and reason on Good Evening Wales tonight. Come on Steve. Don't let our traditions dissappear.

Killing The Pig

Today's Telegraph has a grotesque photograph of a pig with its throat slit. George Margarit had just plunged his knife into her throat and hot steaming blood was spilling out onto the ground. The article tells us that the pig's screams and shudders continued even after she had breathed her last. And then Vasilicia poured out plum brandy for the visitors. It is the traditional way that pigs are slaughtered in Romania. If Lorraine Barrett read the Telegraph, she would feel sick. And I would understand why.

I daresay most Telegraph readers were disgusted to learn that these Romanians behave in such a barbaric way. But it is what most Welsh farming families did when I was a child. I remember to this day how much I hated it. The pig (the choson one) had been hand-fed for many months and had become something of a pet. Then one day the neighbours came over, dragged the pig to the house by a rope tied around it's snout, whereupon it was hauled up to a beam by its back legs - and then its throat was slit. I can still hear the pig's screams in my memory. It didn't stop me eating the faggots though. I hated it - but I accepted it as a normal part of life. And as far as I can remember evereyone else did as well. But then new rules came in which required the pig to be shot before it was stuck. Quite often, or so I was told, some people reversed these procedures - because it was held that the pig would not 'bleed' if shot first. Today, we all buy our pork and bacon from Tescos.

Anyway, now that Romania has joined the EU, pigs will have to be slaughtered by electrocution, shooting or tranquilisers, in the presence of an 'Inspector'. Quite right too. There will also be huge new taxes on the plum brandy which will make it unaffordable. And these Romanians will not be allowed to leave corpses at home for three days as they have always done. And their vegetables will have to be packaged before they can be sold from the farm. And they won't be allowed to sell cheese packed in sheep's stomachs on the side of the road. Etc., etc..

Welcome to the EU, Romania.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Opik - Shock News

Montgomeryshire MP, Lembit Opik has astounded the political and celebrity world today. It is all over the papers. Two full pages in the Mail on Sunday. It has never happened before. I was stunned. I never thought I would see such a thing in print. For the first time ever, it has been announced that 'Lembit Opik was unavailable for comment'. And tomorrow the Pope may renounce Catholicism.

Angharad Mair Talks Sense

At last, I find someone who shares this Blog's longstanding outrage at the way the BBC has treated Welsh cyclist Nicole Cooke. Angharad Mair has really lashed out at the BBC in her Wales on Sunday column - but then she has a genuine understanding of sport. Nicole has been the outstanding British sportsperson of 2006. If there was any justice in these things, she would have been declared Sportsperson of the Year. But Nicole is not brash. Nor does she have celebrity status. Nor has she had to cope with deep personal tragedy. She is just a pleasant, well-spoken utterly brilliant Welsh cyclist who would be feted as a world star in every other European country. But the BBC treated her as an also-ran - simply because her 'story' is not 'Good TV'.

Nicole's only challenger should have been Joe Calzaghe who, at least, did come third. His demolition of Jeff Lacey was the best performance by British fighter since Howard Winstone - who I remember driving down to London to see fight Vicente Saldivar soon after passing my driving test over 40 years ago. I don't know much about this Peter Manfredo Jnr that Joe is taking on in the spring - but I hope we don't see any of the complacency he showed in his last fight with the headbutter, Bika. And then it will be on to the retirement pension fight with Bernard Hopkins. This blog wishes Joe well.

Nicole will win the title next year.

Lee Cycles Off - For Now

Over the last few months this blog has become a fan of Lee Waters - ITV's Waterfront presenter. Not a natural frontman - but he turned out to be an incisive interviewer. His 'Ieuan - The Movie' interview was a real gem and his ' Coalition discussions have taken place' interview with Nick Bourne was the most influential interview of the year. Lee is a strong candidate for this blog's 'Journalist of the Year' awards which will be announced later this week.

But Lee is off to pastures new. He will do a good job at Sustrans Cymru - but I predict that he will be back on the political scene within 5 years. I see him as an AM rather than as an MP.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Budget Debate. Post Script

Political power is a bitter-sweet experience. It is a 'doddle' just sitting on the sidelines whinging about 'The Government' - which is why so many are not willing to take it on. It is miles tougher work exercising power. Anyway, as part of the discussions on the Final Budget debate the Assembly Government has handed a bit of the power-exercising role over to the Environment, Planning and Countryside Committee, which I chair.

The Labour Government do not like the socio-economic support scheme for upland farming known as Tir Mynnydd. I quote from Labour's Final Stage Policy Document for the Assembly election - which was leaked last month.

"The Tir Mynnydd scheme delivers little in the way of environmental benefits.....Welsh Labour remains clear that the scheme can no longer be justified....... looking to phase it out over the next three years."

Carwyn Jones had announced that the money going to the Tir Mynnydd scheme was to be cut to £22 million next year - but the budget negotiations have resulted in a decision that it should go back up to £36 million instead. But there is to be no extra money. So the £14 million has to come from other spending plans in the EPC budget. This is going to mean some really tough decision making. This is where my Committee comes in. Two weeks ago I was backing Ieuan Wyn Jones to lead us to power this week - but it didn't come to pass. It seems that my 'consolation prize' is to handle what will be the toughest part in the entire budget process. That is why I have been taking every chance I get to prepare the ground for some tough calls over the next few weeks.

Frank Johnson 1943 - 2006

In the Final Budget debate last Wednesday, Leanne Wood, who has something of the smiling assassin about her, made a rather good intervention on Nick Bourne. Leanne recited an extract from one of my blog posts which was based on one of my favourite forms of humour, 'irony'. I had posted that I was upset about Ieuan's 'wobble' and refusal to lead a 'caretaker' government because it removed my potential access to a ministerial car. I wasn't sure what to do because I wanted to laugh - but I wasn't sure how Nick would take it (very well as it happens). Since then, I had been considering abandoning irony as an 'unsafe' form of writing. I don't think the Welsh do 'irony' very well and prefer 'sarcasm' which, in general, I do not like. And then I read today that Frank Johnson has died.

Frank Johnson died of cancer aged 63 and kept me entertained up until last week. He was one of wittiest sketchwriters that I have ever read and has been a Spectator contributer for 20 years. Irony was his trademark - although I read that Charles Moore, another wonderful writer, describes his skill as 'inversion'. I wish that I had met Frank Johnson because in life he created in me a sometimes quirky way of looking at things. And in death he's done the same. To hell with the tiny minds who can't cope with irony. Long live the memory of Frank Johnson.

Mistaken Identity.

I see reported in today's Telegraph that Edwina Currie claims to have problems through being mistaken for Virginia Bottomley and Joan Collins. Oh yeah. I too often have trouble when I am mistaken for Brad Pitt

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Budget is Approved.

So, Rhodri got his budget after all. The deal was done in private meetings between Ieuan Wyn Jones and Rhodri Morgan on Tuesday afternoon - held behind a glass wall so that the world could see the Plaid leader working like a beaver to win the 'fig leaf' concession he needed to get himself out of the hole he was in. In fact, Ieuan had no real choice. Once he had decided that he was not prepared to lead a 'Caretaker Government' a deal was never in doubt. He would have saved a lot of kerfuffle if he'd made his position clear in the first place.

I was really depressed by the Final Budget debate. The deal had already been done. I simply could not see the sense in the 'opposition' parties punching each others lights out. I wouldn't be surprised if Labour haven't videoed some of the speeches to send to each other as Christmas presents. I have never seen Sue Essex laugh so much. When the deal was finally confirmed on Wednesday morning, it was time to move on.

Ieuan appears to have been genuinly offended by what he sees as a breakdown in trust. He seems to think that our party has been briefing against him. I can have no idea if any confidences have been broken - but I launched my attack on him in full view, because I thought he had let me down. When he announced on the previous Tuesday that Plaid Cymru were going to vote down the Final Budget, the only rational conclusion I could arrive at was that Rhodri Morgan would be forced to resign and that Ieuan would take over as First Minister, leading some sort of 'caretaker' arrangement. I was, in effect, ready to accept Ieuan as our leader. If he wasn't willing to do so, he should never have committed himself to voting the Final Budget down. He really can have no complaints. Actually, I thought his budget debate speech was perfectly ok.

There is a lot of talk that this warfare between opposition parties makes a 'Rainbow Coalition' less likey. I'm not so sure. The reality is that there will have to be a coalition of some sort after the May election and it will be decided on mutual interests and policy considerations. My main 'party' political objective since becoming an AM is to break the stranglehold that Labour has had on Wales for the last century. Now that the Hokey-Kokey music has ended, I haven't given up hope that Ieuan may consider a 'Tango with the Tories' for the prize of better government for the people of Wales. Many a successful marraige has blossomed after a stormy engagement.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Don't Frighton the Horses.

All the horses in Flintshire are heading for cover. Carl Sergeant has just asked a question in the chamber about the promotion of horse riding. Now I'm sure Carl won't mind me saying that he would represent something of a challenge for even the most study nag. To make matters worse, he then received support from Brynle Williams who would also never describe himself as a lightweight. The horses of North Wales are trembling with fearful anticipation.

EU Tug of War

Developments within the EU were on my agenda yesterday. Firstly a 'prominent' Conservative hoping to become an AM telephoned me for advice about whether to make a public commitment to support the campaign to withdraw the UK from the EU. It seems that several Conservative MP's and MEP's have already made such a commitment. I could not offer any clear advice but I hope there is room in our party for people who hold non-mainstream views. I also said that I would not myself be signing up to such a campaign.

And last night I met the delightfully friendly Raduta Matache, the Acting Ambassador for Romania and the equally friendly and imposing Charge d'Affair for Bulgaria . We were all guests of Andy Klom, Head of the EU Commission Office in Wales at a reception at Caspian Point. Both representatives made a nice speech, Ms Matache having gone to the trouble to learn several phrases in the Welsh Language.

Two small incidents! Maybe. But I do believe they are representative of the split in UK opinion. It is interesting that in East European countries the EU is seen as the way to a better future and a safer world, while in the UK even non -withdrawalists like me see excessive regulation and bureaucratic waste before we see the pluses.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Its all about Ieuan

The dominating issue in the National Assembly today has been tomorrow's vote on the Government's Final Budget. At the moment, it looks as if the Government is going to lose the vote. If this were to happen, Rhodri Morgan should resign immediately and the AMs who voted down his budget should be prepared to put together some sort of 'caretaker arrangement' to take us through to the Assembly election. But it seems that Rhodri has made it clear that he is going to sit tight. But who knows? Carwyn Jones and Andrew Davies must be on tenterhooks - preparing themselves for a leadership election which would surely follow a resignation. The depressing aspect of all this is that our Assembly is left looking like a Mickey Mouse Parliament. If a Government loses its budget, it should resign, full stop.

But is Ieuan Wyn Jones going to save Rhodri's skin? Poor old Ieuan has gone all sensitive on us - always a mistake in politics. I'm told that since I referred to him last week as 'Wobbly' Wyn Jones and as the Hokey Kokey King of Welsh Politics, he's become so upset that he is no longer willing to work with the Tories at all. He's ditched the Lib-Dems as well. This is a bit of a gamble. All this afternoon he has been trying to rescue the position by working on the Labour Government to give him a bit of extra money so that he can claim that he has acheived some great victory- which would enable him to let the budget through tomorrow. I have always had a soft spot for Plaid Cymru and things looked so bad for them in the Chamber today when Ieuan was forced to concede a 'free vote' on some issue (because his members would not back him) that I began to feel sorry for them.

So onwards to tomorrow's debate. Will Plaid do a deal and let Labour off the hook? Will Labour be defeated on its budget? Will Rhodri Morgan resign if he loses? Will we all look even more stupid by having to come back again next week for another go at it? It is all such a shambles at the moment that I do not think anyone knows the answer to any of these questions. Politics is an unpredictable business.

No Smoking in the 'Fangre'

An interesting piece of info in today's Telegraph about 'No Smoking' signs in Wales. For donkey's years there has been widespread use of the notice 'Dim Ysmygu' which means 'No smoking'. But it seems that the Assembly Government has decided on a new sign which says 'Mae ysmygu yn y fangre hon yn erbyn y gyfraith'.
Now there is nothing unusual in the Assembly Goverment coming up with an announcement which is gobbledegook beyond understanding - but on this occassion they have gone one better than usual. I am told that no-one has ever heard of this word 'Fangre'. The Telegraph tells us that it is a word that has not been used in living memory. We truly have a backwards looking Government.

The Strange Facts about The Box Jellyfish

Took part in a quiz in Cardiff last night organised by the World Wildlife Fund. Congratulations to the Plaid Cymru team on winning the Politician's Prize. The Tory team had to be satisfied with coming second to Plaid - something we intend to put right next May.

Learnt a lot about the natural world. The most unforgettable gem of information that we picked up is that the Box Jellyfish has 64 anus's. This astonishing fact was particularly interesting to me because since the lower B
bowel re-section operation I underwent 4 years ago after going down with colorectal cancer, I don't have one at all. The poor old Box Jellyfish must live its life in a state of total confusion.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

The Dangerous Mr Griffin

Last night, I finally realised how much of a threat the BNP are. I went to a 60th birthday party in my village where I heard several friends, very sensible people in every other way, speak well of Mr Nick Griffin, leader of the BNP. I have never met Mr Griffin but he lives nearby and often parks his car near my office in Welshpool. Many people tell me that Mr Griffin and his family are personable and popular.

"What is going on" I ask myself. And the more I ask, the more worried I become. This small personal experience is part of the national debate that is taking off about multi-culturalism. Even in the deepest recesses of rural Mid Wales, where a black face or a muslim veil are rarely seen, there is growing disquiet about the non-integration of people who move into Britain from other cultures. All my life I have accepted the orthadoxy of multi-culturalism. But when I hear the debate, clamour even, that seems to be breaking out around my ears, I am forced to ask myself some hard questions. Trevor Phillips, Chair of the Commission for Racial Equality started the debate in my head. Then Jack Straw went public in a seriously risky way. And Tony Blair made public statements this week that could well have seen him branded a 'racist' if he had made them two years ago. There is a lot of fertile ground for the seeds of poison to be sown.

The nasty Mr Griffin and some of his unsavoury henchmen that we have seen on our televisions is not too much of a problem. We can see what they are. But the nice Mr Griffin and his unfailingly polite acqaintancies who convey their 'messages' around rural Wales are highly bloody dangerous.

Poor Little Foxes

Sad little story in today's Western Mail about cruelty to foxes. An estate in Mid Wales has been accused of improperly using animal snares to catch foxes. (They are called 'whole body restraints in Ireland). What the kind-hearted folk who forced through the ban on foxhunting (with its immediate and certain death if the fox is caught) are now finding is that the much more cruel system of fox control through snaring is now increasing. It pains me to say so but the ban on foxhunting has led to an overall increase in animal cruelty - as any born-and-bred countryman knew it would.

There will now inevitably be a campaign to ban snaring - as I am told it is banned in parts of Europe. I am unsure about whether to support such a campaign because I haven't seen any evidence to tell me whether shooting, which would inevitably take its place, would be even more cruel. I still have the image in my mind of the cutest little fox cub, which played on my mother-in-law's lawn every morning a couple of years ago being shot and taking three days to die - probably of gangrene.

It really is rather sad when a campaign by the well intentioned actually causes an increase in the cruelty they want to reduce. Our poor little foxes have to pay the price.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Revenge of a Spurned Suitor

I read in today's Western Mail that I and fellow blogger, Peter Black are less than impressed by the policy gymnastics of Plaid Cymru over the Assembly Government's budget. I was content with Martin Shipman's reporting of my strong critisms - except that I wish I had not referred to Plaid Cymru as the 'nationalists'. I won't do that again. It has a unacceptable ring of gratuitous disrespect about it.

For months, I have been trying to point out to Plaid Cymru that if the people of Wales are to be offered a genuine choice at the next election, there must be the prospect of a non-Labour option. All of us hope we can win a sufficient number of seats to form a Government on our own - but this is not likely. In a Proportional Representation system we are all forced to consider compromises and joint programmes. The alternative is to be confined to the touchline of politics for ever. There are many Plaid members who find it difficult to contemplate working in harness with Tories - no matter how much we have changed. There are also many Tories who would prefer permanent opposition to forming any sort of relationship with Plaid Cymru or the Lib-Dems. And I don't relish the thought either. But without the prospect of power, there is little point in being in politics at all.

The budget discussions have really exposed Plaid Cymru. There is absolutely no point in threatening to vote down the Assembly Government's Final Budget without the determination to remove the Government from office if the vote is lost - and it would be irresponsible to force the Government out without being prepared to take over the reins of power. Without this level of determination, the whole exercise is posturing. At 12.15 last Tuesday Ieuan Wyn Jones was leading a group of leaders who gave every indication that they meant business. Two hours later, the Plaid Cymru leader had not so much 'blinked' as put his head in a paper bag. And that is why I ask myself how it is possible to work with a party which is so long on rhetoric - and so short on the guts needed to take on the ruthless Labour machine which has dominated Welsh politics for a century. In the circumstances 'Wobbly' is about the kindest word that I can come up with.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Week's Big Story

Forget the posturing over the Assembly Budget - where Plaid Cymru bottled out at the thought of power. Forget Gen. Sir Mike Jackson's devastating critique of the Labour Government's support for the Army. Forget the Chancellor's latest and massive tax grab in the guise of 'green' policy. The big story of the week was Kate Barker's proposals on how to change the planning system. The Report applies only to England - but will have just as much an impact, albeit indirect, on Wales.

Kate Barker's Report would transform the way we live in Britrain. As always with these 'major change' reports, she has got some things right and some things wrong. She is right to propose removing a whole raft of development from the control of the planning system. Where the neighbours are happy, homeowners would be able to build extentions, conservatories, etc. without any reference to the planning authorities. Very sensible rolling back of the leviathon state.

Where she is wildly wrong is to propose building all over the Green Belt in the South-East of England. This is the last thing we need. The right response is to have much more permissive planning regimes in the other parts of Britain - to spread prosperity. And how can any political party make claim to localism (which is the fashion at the moment) without giving Local Planning Authorities more freedom to decide policy in their own areas. We know that concentrating more development - and investment - and jobs - and everything else in the South East will increase division, injustice and resentment in the North and Cornwall etc.

And the same applies in Wales. Which is one of the two main reasons why I am so doubtful about the idea of a Severn Barrage. For years we have had too much of focus on Cardiff - in my view at the expense of the rest of Wales. The concentration of resources on the South East corner if a barrage were to go ahead would make the position a whole lot worse. I cannot say that the need to develop renewable energy could not persuade me to change my mind on this - but my personal view, at present is that I would back a new nuclear power station before a Severn Barrage.

Shock or Scandal

Yesterday morning, Labour AM John Griffiths strolled into the Member's Tearoom, whereupon his eyes fell upon a strange sight indeed. There were two young ladies, up from London in the company of my colleague, Brynle Williams and myself. One of the young ladies had extracted from her case a black leather strappy appliance, which was fitted with two electrodes and which could be worn around the neck, the leg or the arm. There was a choice of one short pulse of electriciry, several intermittent pulses or the full works in the form of a continuous pulse. I was being fitted up at the time. There's been so much publicity over the years about what parliamentarians get up to - but this was beyond anything that John had believed possible in the Tearoom. I was lucky I spotted him before he retreated, in order to appraise him of the entirely innocent explanation - before he started a rumour that would have brought disrespect upon the AMs concerned and the institution as a whole.

The two young ladies were from the Kennel Club and were lobbying us about the cruelty involved in the use of electric 'training' collars for dogs. The only way to understand the scale of pain involved was for one of us to try it out - and since Brynle suffered a touch of ill-health recently, the responsibility fell upon me.. The cups were cleared and the button was pressed. I yowled and both Brynle and I agreed to support the introduction of new regulations to control the use of these nasty little devices which, in the wrong hands, would be weapons of sadistic cruelty.

After persuading us of the merits of their case, the two young ladies were off to see Carwyn Jones, the Minister with resposibility far animal welfare. A politician's life is full of little shocks.

Happy Xmas to my Visitors

I have decided to take my duties as Chair of the National Assembly Committee responsible for the environment more seriously - by saving on taxies and so reduce my carbon footprint. I was caught on camara last week between meetings in Newtown, Montgomeryshire. I am thinking of hiring some huskies and a sleigh to speed things up a bit. If this traditional form of transport was OK for David Cameron on his recent visit to Norway to see melting glaciers, then its OK for me.

If anyone has a better suggestion by which I can cut back on my personal carbon emissions, please let me know

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Hopes Dashed

I hear that Plaid Cymru are backing down over the Government'sFinal Budget. Sure, Ieuan is trying to make lot of distracting noise in the chamber at the moment. But I am hearing rumours that the reality is that Plaid are going to issue a statement later today, stating that a coalition to replace Rhodri Morgan is 'not realistic'. This would be a gigantic U-turn. This would be letting Labour completely off the hook. This would be letting the people of Wales down. Threats are no use unless there is a spike of steel to back it up.

If opposition parties do not accept the Government's Final Budget, they must have thhe courage of their convictions and follow it through and vote the Government down - even if this means the resignation of Labour and forming a Government in its place. At midday today, Ieuan was leading a group of leaders telling us this was what they were going to do. A few hours later and if what I hear turns out to be true it will be the fastest retreat since the poor sap who last faced Amir Khan.

Bang goes my chance of being a Minister. No huge Ministerial salary. No Ministerial car. No huge staff to prepare my speeches etc. etc. etc.

Go back to your constituencies and prepare for Government"

Wow! I've just been down to a Joint Press Briefing by the leaders of Plaid Cymru, the Welsh Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. The message was clear. There has been no agreement on the Assembly Government's Final Budget. On Wednesday,next week, all the opposition AMs are going to combine to vote it down.

Vaughan Roderick when asking his question reminded everyone that Rhodri Morgan has said publicly that if he fails to get his budget through, he will resign. When the inevitable question was put, the answer was clear. Mike German said that if Rhodri were to kick the ball into the middle of the pitch, the opposition parties would pick it up. Nick Bourne said when asked if they were ready to form a Government in place of Labour, "Yes, of course we will".

Now, this is big stuff. Heels have been dug into the ground. Are Labour about to resign? The answer could be 'Yes'. So I say to all oposition AMs as they prepare for their Xmas break, go back to your constituecies and prepare for Government - from next week!!

Monday, December 04, 2006

Xmas Disaster

Yesterday morning I competed in the Santa Run at Newtown. I have to do this every year so that my sons, who also compete, can enjoy visiting upon me the humiliation of defeat. This year I was in a weakened state, suffering the lingering effects of Staphylacoccus Aureae. I just wasn't ready for it and didn't spot the danger. As I crossed the finishing line, out of the crowd leapt Lembit Opik, who put a friendly arm around my shoulder. To make matters worse, this act of support was captured by a passing cameraman.

Now, those who read this blog will remember the disastrous effect that 'The Curse of Lembit' had on the career of every potential leader of the Liberal Democrats when Charles Kennedy was forced to resign earlier this year. I fear the worst. Any 'leadership' ambitions that I might have had have been immediately suspended as a precaution.

a) Mick Bates was there. He was so busy entertaining the crowd with hand gestures that he missed the camara - another first.
b) In yesterday's Sunday Telegraph I read that Mark Oaten had been thinking of joining the Conservatives. Should have made me aware of the 'Curse'
c) While out on the run, I noticed that Lembit's Office in Newtown is still called the Liberal Office - no sign of the Democrat word.

James Powell and the NFU

This 'blog' is opposed to the gratuitous use of profanity. But the recent conviction of James Powell, a Llangynidr farmer cannot pass without comment. According to the Brecon and Radnor Express he was found guilty of 'displaying words likely to cause harrassment, alarm or distress' and was given a conditional discharge. He was also ordered to pay £500 prosecution costs.

Now to my involvment. At this year's Royal Welsh Show, I visited the NFU Building and ventured out onto the balcony which affords a spendid view of the Main Ring.. Immediately, I spotted someone in the passing throng, waving and smiling in my direction. I naturally responded only for several others to join in the exchange of friendly gestures. For fully 10 minutes, I thought my political campaigning was paying the sort of dividend that I have been dreaming of. I felt the inner warmth of public appreciation enter my deeper conciousness. Then I turned around and the inner glow evaporated, as does any spark of goodwill at First Minister's Questions.

High up on the roof behind me was Mr James Powell, holding aloft a huge banner proclaiming that my hosts, the NFU were 'No F****** Use'. Spiderman himself would not have won as much attention. Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the whole affair was that the man who manages the NFU Building at Llanelwedd told the court that he was deeply upset and distressed by the use of such language. I have to observe that this man doesn't get out much. He needs to spend time talking less to farmers and other countrymen who have been left trailing in the profanity stakes. I would further advise him not to drive down St Mary's St. in the evening with his car window down. He would hear worse than that pouring forth from the mouths of babes with angelic faces, just chatting on the pavement.

As it happens, I consider the NFU to be an exceptionally competent body.

Cheerless Christmas

I received my first Xmas card this morning. I am not sure who it was from but it had printed upon it a poem as cheerless as aKyffin landscape.

Wheel of Misfortune

Wales, Wales
My beautiful,gentle, rugged homeland
How I ache to see your plight
Feel your pain, share your shame
Your moss like fields so pleasing to the eye
Turned into scrap-yards,
It makes me cry
Your green grass verges stoned and staked
For people's greed and parking space
Your majestic woodlands defiled, and raped
Trapped they have no escape

Unwanted, unnecessary, unneeded,
Caravan parks mushrooming up
Devouring, taking, marring your landscape
Never to be replaced
Your footprints strewed with cars
Silently waiting for the inevitable
Lamp-posts, road signs, roundabouts dripping with advertising
Road-side selling, highway billboards
Soiling, spoiling your stately fabric
How can the powers that be
Stand idly by
And live with what they see
As long as there is breath in me
I must object to what 'I' see

With one or two changes this could be renamed 'Ode to a Wind Turbine'

Sunday, December 03, 2006

It should have been Nicole

Watched the glitzy BBC Sports Pesonality of the Year tonight. It looked a really good night out. I was offered a ticket but couldn't go. I suppose it was entirely predictable that Joe Calzaghe would win - but my vote went to Nicole Cooke. And I would vote for Nicole to win the UK title as well. She has performed brilliantly over the last year and is the best cyclist Britain has ever had - and by a long mile. If she was French or Italian or Spannish or anything else European, she would be winning every award in sight. Maybe next year Nicole.

Joe had a good year though. The total destruction of Jeff Lacey was one of the finest exhibitions of the noble art that I have ever seen. But he let himself down by going in against the headbutter, Bika with far too cocky an attitude - and nearly paid the price. He just needs to tempt Bernard Hopkins out of retirement for one last big payday in the States - and then hang up his gloves while he still has his looks and brain intact.
Joe is not too popular in our house because of the caustic comments he made about Tim Henman, who is probably the best tennis player that Britain has ever produced. ( I can't remember Fred Perry). It really annoys me when so called sports fans dismiss Tim as a 'loser' as Calzaghe did. Its like calling Giggs a loser because he never won 'World Footballer of the Year'.

I wonder whether we modern, compassionate, reasonable Welsh Tories are supposed to enjoy watching fighters knocking six bells out of each other. But I can't help it . I could get into a fight playing conkers - when I was young. I even enjoyed the Zidane headbutt - and to this day, think it an entirely understandable response to family insults.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Murky Red Sunset

This post is unashamedly partisan and is only suitable for dyed-in-the-wool Conservatives. It is a very anti Welsh Labour post.
Rhodri Morgan played his trump card this week - and hardly anyone noticed. Sure, Tomos Livingstone in the Western Mail and both of Thursday's political TV shows, Waterfront and Dragon's Eye covered his 'Venus di Milo' speech in Swansea - but this is minority coverage in the wider scheme of things. Most people, even in Wales, take the UK media and it completely ignored his announcement that New Labour is dead, deceased, gone with Blair. The First Minister's desperate attempt to distance himself from the sinking ship, HMS Blair was a near total flop. And it deserved to be - because it was gibberish.

Comparing the New Labour Project, built as it is on image rather than acheivement with a genuine work of art was just plain daft - and I'm surprised anyone mentioned it except to mock the stupidity of it all. And then there is the illogicality of 'interring' New Labour in the same breath as lauding Gordon Brown, who was probably more its creator than any other single person.

And Rhodri Morgan's record is not what some commentaters crack it up to be. His 'good result' at the last Assembly election was down to a complete loss of direction and focus by Plaid Cymru - and the continued popularity of Tony Blair and the continued failure of my party to reconnect with voters to any significant degree. I never thought the rubbish about 'clear red water' had any effect outside the tiny little political village in Wales. For several years the performance of Rhodri Morgan in the National Assembly has lacked any authority and he has looked more like a 70s trade union official than a First Minister. He has been a poor 'ambassador' for Wales. Who can forget his excruciating performances on Newsnight and Question Time. Just like John Prescott, Rhodri has become the subject of humour rather than the exponent of it.

Anyway the 'clear red water' philosophy is no more than the wholesale distribution of taxpayer's money. It worked in the short term - but the chickens have come home to roost because the Asembly Govern,ment does not have the power to raise taxes (except indirectly through Council Tax). The reason the First Minister's latest attempt to portray himself as the 'change Wales needs' will fail is because the Welsh people have sussed out Rhodri Morgan. He deserves to be removed from office. It will be the most massive indictment of the opposition parties if the Labour Group is not significantly reduced in size next May.

Bonds Galore in Wales

Saw Casino Royale last night. Too much of Bond's tendancy towards violence for my taste - and not enough of his penchant for 'the ladies' (as we used to say before it became politically incorrect). Since all of Bond's 'ladies' seem to move straight from the bedroom to the grave, becoming involved with him has become a decidedly risky activity.

But who are the 'Bonds' in our National Assembly. In a previous 'post' I observed that John Marek has a Bond-like survival instinct - and the traditional prickly relationship with M in the Presiding Officer's Chair. I have looked around for potential stand-ins. I offer you Brynle Williams, Mick Bates and Carl Sergeant. All three positively reek of 'menace'.

Brynle has already shown his power to destroy. In Casino Royale, Daniel Craig brings down a building in Venice. Small beer. Brynle brought the entire nation to its knees with his fuel blockade and forced Gordon Brown to take a step backwords. Even Bond couldn't do that. And Mick Bates has demonstrated his utter contempt for diplomatic fancy-dancy protocols. Who else would wear a Santa suit in the crucible of Welsh democracy - and give 'The Finger' to authority so fearlessly. I offer Carl Sergeant because he instills such fear in all around him. A quiet word from Carl and I even seen Huw Lewis at his most 'spiky' just fade away. Carl is not a man to be tanged with. Every Tuesday, after all the opposition parties have given Jane Hutt, the Government's Business Manager her weekly mauling, up leaps the Labour 'enforcer' to rebuff all attacks and give heart to his beleagured colleague. Of course, if Wigley was still around, his family connections with Murrey the Hump, Al Capone's right hand man would make him an obvious candidate for audition. So if Daniel Craig was serious about retirement last night, there are plenty of potential 00s in Wales.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Cameron under Attack

I was taken aback by the sheer ferocity of Jeff Randall's attack on David Cameron in today's Telegraph. 'RANDALL DISPARAGES CAMERA-ON' - 'So anxious is he to prove his lovey-dovey, caring-sharing credentials that he risks doing precisely that which he is telling colleagues they must avoid; boxing in the party on future policy'. And there was more. This is strong stuff from a straight-talking pundit that I enjoy reading - and usually agree with. But this time Randall has got it wrong. He makes a fair point about the need to ensure that business feels more valued by the Conservatives - but he seems to have no understanding of the over-riding need to broaden the base of our popular support.

The Cameron strategy is not about our position in the opinion polls over the short term (at least I hope not) - and everything about changing the perception of our party in the long term. Cameron must challenge the stereotype pin-stripe Tory image. We have to satisfy people that we care as much about the weakest in our society as much as we want to release the energy of the strongest. (Not a bad line for a Cameron speech!).

I fully understand the frustration behind Jeff Randall's tirade and the Party must 'take note' of such a ferocious shot across the bows. But, speaking as someone who did not back David Cameron for the leadership, I believe he is doing a hugely challenging job as well as any of us could have hoped.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Peter Black and Leadership Challenges

I am getting a few emails about Peter Black's Blog today and his encouragement to the winner of last night's 'Politician to Watch' oscar, Kirsty Williams to take the next opportunity to challenge Mike German for the leadership of the Liberal Democrats in the National Assembly. Mike must really love Peter. But it has started me thinking about leadership challenges. The National Assembly could be the first institution to go through the first decade of its existance without any leadership challenge of any sort. We haven't seen any sign whatsoever of the phemenon which seems to grip Westminster politics on a regular basis. Perhaps its a Welsh thing that we never challenge the leader, no matter what.

There have been leadership changes but nothing to do with challenges. Alun Michael was kicked out by the opposition parties, Rod Richards resigned as the result of a personal problem, Dafydd Wigley resigned as a result of ill-health and I never really understood why Ieuan resigned. Something to do with Dai Lloyd telling him that not everybody in his group thought losing 30% of Plaid's Assembly seats at one go was a 'gold star' performance. Anyway, once he'd recovered his balance, he realised that this Welsh loyalty thing would work in his favour and he unresigned himself. It looks as if Peter is impatient to see an internal party election - probably just to liven things up a bit. And it puts a bit of pressure on Mike German to deliver next May.

Lord Roberts of Conwy - Greatest living Welshman

Just catching up with last night's awards at the ITV 'Oscars' ceremoney in Cardiff. Congrats to my colleague, Jonathon Morgan on his AM of the Year oscar and I cannot really argue with the others - except that I would have liked to have seen Lord Roberts of Conwy winning the Lifetime Acheivement Award. I fully accept that Neil Kinnock has risen to high office but I'm not so sure about actual 'acheivement'. After all he was the Labour leader who so spectacularly snatched defeat out of the jaws of victory in 1992 with an ill-judged pre-victory parade at Sheffield. And he was the EU Commissioner charged with cleaning up EU Commission politics only to have the Commission accounts qualified every year he was there. But I suppose he is a terrific entertainer and he made the Labour Party electable. I have always had a tad of sympathy for the unkindly named 'Welsh Windbag' because, in some ways his effort deserved victory in the 1992 Election. And, with hindsight, I think the Conservatives might have been better off if we had lost that one.

Lord Roberts of Conwy did not win the high office that many of us thought he deserved - but he did acheive, big-time. Wyn did more to turn around the decline in the Welsh Language than any other person alive today. Now that's acheivement. But we do live in an age when the ability to generate publicity is more highly regarded than actual delivery. Anyway I don't want to be too churlish. It is probably my political prejudice that is influencing my opinion.

T******, The Finger and Sh***

Parliamentary behaviour is deteriorating. I listened to Prime Minister's Questions earlier today (in the company of Alun Ffred Jones and Adrian Masters) from the comfort of the BBC studio couch on the 4th floor. Our role was to discuss the content of PMQs. Today, Mr John Prescott was standing in for the Prime Minister. William Hague came up with a brilliant ploy to confound poor old Prezza. He asked him questions about foreign policy and pensions which required a modicum of intelligence to answer. Our Deputy Prime Minister was completely snookered. In the end he did what any third rate comedian does and started playing for cheap laughs by swearing. He called the Tories 'Tossers'and the House roared with laughter. Prezza didn't realise that it was directed mostly at him. I haven't seen PMQs for a while and I hadn't realised how far downhill the Labour leadership has slipped.

The Assembly does not like to be outdone and Mick Bates has been on hand to carry the banner for unparliamentary behaviour. In yesterday's Plenary Session he gave someone 'The Finger'. Now, we don't know who it was aimed at but it happened immediately after the Llywydd had snapped out "Order" to the 'unruly' Rhodri Glyn Thomas. Unfortunately for Mick, some enterprising soul videoed it and put it on the internet. Mick's excuse was priceless. Apparantly he was showing Rhodri Glyn which finger he should use to press the voting buttons in the Chamber. Its a good job there aren't two buttons to press at the same time.

And then, (and believe this or believe it not) Mick stood up to speak about 'sh***s'. At least this was an accident. He had meant to say 'sites'. Now this was really rather funny and when I read 'annonomous's' comments on one of my previous posts, I lost control. I haven't been as amused by a slip of the tongue since the great Peter Rogers, wlth the volume pumped up to max. referred to "The Green Willy Brigade" in the middle of an attack on what he saw as over enthusiastic environmentalists. And I was trying to concentrate on serious statements from Carwyn Jones about telecommunications masts and the Marine Bill. An AMs life is varied.

Mysterious Marek

The entire Chamber was reduced to a state of total bewilderment today as John Marek presented the motion that Assembly Members 'approve changes to the National Assembly for Wales Members Salary Rules'. No-one understood a word that he said. None of us have any idea whether our pension entitlements have been improved or not.

A few weeks ago I heard a speech delivered in German in the Austrian Parliament. I do not have a word of German (except that which I have picked up from World War 11 films) but I reckon I understood it rather better than the Marek 'masterpiece' today. There really should be some sort of award for it.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Sandwich Board Man

Mike German’s speeches remind me of the Spittelau Waste Recycling Plant in Vienna – but working in reverse. At Spittelau the city’s rubbish goes in one end and after some hugely technical processing emerges as something useful at the other end.

But sometimes Mike comes up with a good line – and he did yesterday in the Queen’s Speech Debate when he likened Peter Hain to a ‘Sandwich Board Man’. He then went on to spoil his joke by explaining the mechanics of it at such great length, so that every last one of his admirers (and the others) could understand it. The gist of it was that Peter emits one message about devolution to those looking from Westminster and a different message to those looking from London. This is not a particularly acute observation as Peter is fairly shameless about it.

Peter Hain is a very polished performer, made to look even better by Rhodri Morgan’s shambling style. He did seem a touch off yesterday though – no doubt affected by his wife, Elizabeth’s road accident the day before (we all hope she’s back on her feet soon).

The only really daft thing he said was that Westminster would not be prepared to approve any Assembly Measure, using our new powers after May next year, to ‘privatise education’. I think he knew it was daft when he said it. I pointed out that a Westminster Government, led by Tony Blair working on his own legacy, is far more likely to come up with such a ridiculous idea than any combination of AM’s or parties in the National Assembly. But I suppose Peter Hain is looking to a different audience at the moment - the electorate who will choose the next Deputy Prime Minister.

Leighton Andrews, who is rumoured to be Peter Hain’s fancy as Rhodri’s replacement, was in very lively form yesterday, bouncing up and down like a spring chicken and paying homage to his high-powered sponsor by repeating his line about the next election being a contest between Labour and a Tory-led coalition. This suits us fine. Poor old Ieuan must be feeling a bit like Rocky, loosing his title in the 15th round after leading on points for the first 14.

But it was a good debate with several enjoyable backbench contributions. A good day for the National Assembly, I thought.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Supermarket sized U-turn

In Powys this week we are witnessing one of the most humiliating U-turns by a planning authority that I have ever seen. On Friday the Powys Local Planning Authority is being recommended to grant planning permission for a new supermarket for Lidl UK in Newtown, Mid-Wales. This follows many months of implacable opposition to the development - to the extent that Lidl UK was forced to appeal to the National Assembly on the basis of non-determination. Perhaps it is only a coincidence but the BBC's Dragon's Eye programme covered this issue 10 days ago!!

The story so far. Lidl UK put in an application to build a supermarket on the JT Hughes site in Newtown around a year ago. After months of no worthwhile progress, Lidl UK appealed to the Assembly on non-determination grounds - and submitted another similar application at the same time. For months there has been stalemate.

The Council's implacable opposition had been based on two grounds. Firstly, and I concede that I had some sympathy with this, the traffic consequences were unacceptable. The second reason which I thought totally spurious was that the proposed Lidl site was not 'sequentially' the best location for retailing. The Planning Authority went so far as to employ consultants to argue this case for them. (It is a pure coincidence that the 'sequential' site is a piece of land in the Council's ownership which it is rumoured to have provisionally sold to Tesco for £7million.)

The whole issue is tangled up with another proposed supermarket development, 14 miles down the road on the livestock market at Welshpool, where the Council has also been accused of 'dragging its feet'. I do not know how much truth there is in this. It seems that the same consultants are advising the Council that some of the catchment area for the proposed Welshpool development should be regarded as part of the catchment area of the site in the Council's ownership at Newtown, seriously undermining the viability of the Welshpool proposal. Following this week's spectacular U-turn over the Lidl development, can we expect some movement on the Welshpool site now? I only ask the question.

Missionary Work at Shrewsbury

I spoke to Shrewsbury Conservatives over the weekend and decided to talk about my work as an Assembly Member. This turned out to be a 'brave' decision. It seems that the last speaker to talk about the Assembly had concentrated on its failings - or to put it another way, blasted the utter uselessness of the body which should be immediately abolished. Before you ask who, I didn't. But I earned my dinner at the Lord Hill.

The first question was "Why aren't Welsh patients paying the full cost of treatment at the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital - which has put 'our' Hospital in debt to the tune of £34 million? Now that was a damn good question to start the ball rolling.

Question two. "How long must 'we' subsidise you Welsh via the Barnett Formula? We have so many problems of our own that it is obscene that 'we' still have to subsidise 'you' and the Scots.

Third question up was "Why are you helping the EU with its plan to destroy the UK by dividing it into 9 seperate regions - and costing the taxpayers a fortune at the same time?

And question four. "if you are doing so much of the work that MPs do here in Shrewsbury, why has Wales still got so many MPs?

The worrying aspect of this is that I was talking to a really pleasant group who were simply asking what a lot of people in England think. The polls over the weekend that suggested growing calls for an English Parliament came as no surprise to me at all.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Mass Closure of Powys Schools - Inevitable

All this talk about the National Assembly budget has made me think about how it is going to work out at local community level. It looks as if the crunch area is going to be education - and I'm not surprised. I live in Powys and I am expecting an announcement about the first phase in the Council's plan for the 'mass closure' of primary schools before Xmas. No school with less than 35 pupils or with 40% unused capacity is safe from closure.
The current Council strategy was put in place some months ago when Coucillors agreed to a new policy without being given any idea of which schools would be affected. In a bizarre consultation exercise, every school was given a reference number to ensure no councillor knew what they were actually talking about. (It does happen from time to time that a councillor is not well-informeed but it takes a special type of council to put the pursiut of ignorance on a statutory basis.) Anyway the policy was approved and we await the inevitable consequence. This year's budget settlement, whereby Councils have been asked to absorb a 1% cut across the board (rather cutely decribed by the Assembly Government as an 'anticipated efficiency saving') has just about made the 'big axe' certain. The poor old Councillors are 'up the creek without a paddle' or at least at the check-out without a credit card. I have not the slightest doubt that my assertion, made a few months back that up to 40 of its schools are to be closed by Powys County Council will turn out to be an under-estimate.
It would be interesting to know what the Council's 'spokesman' would say if this was put to him today. Firstly, I would expect no answer for several hours while officials thrash around for a form of words that dismiss the assertion without denying it. There may even be a plan to put out an announcement on a Friday afternoon, just before Xmas for all that I know. I do not understand why the Council is just not straight with us. Powys has been put in an impossible financial position by the Assembly Government's budget settlement and it is going to close up to 40 small schools. Why not just say so and put the blame where it is deserved.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

No Haka - No Sympathy

Was really looking forward to today's game. But the whole atmosphere was ruined by the utterly pathetic 'fun and games' over the Haka. How childish can grown men be. There has never been a game between the All Blacks and Wales without the Haka - and it being performed immediately before kick-off. Seeing the All Blacks dancing the Haka in the changing rooms was just very, very sad and spoiled a great day.
The Welsh Black bull started things off well and let fly with a kick out at an official that Dan Carter would have been proud of. Perhaps he was annoyed about the Haka row as well. The two young singers matched each other - which is more than you can say for the teams. The All Blacks were awesome. No disrespect to our boys but they were not in the same league. McCaw and Collins are fearsome competitors and man-of-the-match Sivivatu was simply electric. I wanted Wales to win (despite the Haka fiasco) but I just watched enthralled by a simply wonderful performance from the Blacks. It was enough to make Graham Henry smile - even though I do not think it did.
My moments of the game were Collins' bonecrunching tackle on Mark Jones (he will never forget that) and Ali Williams 60 yd clearance from the full back position.
Under normal circumstances, I would be filled with sympathy for our boys, who I thought played none-too-badly but then there was the stupidity over the Haka. I hope it never happens again.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Sorry Sue. I'm not convinced.

The biggest political issue of the week has been the Assembly Government's response to the Beecham Review about how to improve the delivery of public services in Wales. It was the main issue on both Waterfront and Dragon's Eye last night.
I'm usually in thrall to the measured and consensual approach of the Local Government and Finance Minister, Sue Essex but in this instance I am not convinced. In fact, I am instinctively suspicious and verging on the hostile to what I see as an attempt in 'incorporate' Local Government into the Assembly Government. Judging by the 'rowing back' we saw on TV last night from the excellent WLGA boss, Steve Thomas it looks as if I am not alone in my suspicions. I was also pleased that our man, Melding was not diving in for a cheap headline on TV last night. I am not even sure that the voice that the Government had put up, Leighton Andrews looked wholly convinced himself.
The problem for me is that no-one can possibly argue with the principle. Looking for ways of persuading all providers of public services to work together and coordinate is obviously common sense. And there is a superficial attraction in creating a forum comprised of all providers to discuss things with each other. Sue Essex makes it sound so innocent. The issue is what these 'Local Service Boards' will become and what control they will have over local councils. And then we have the overarching 'big brother' Unit within the Assembly Government itself which is to be set up.......... to do what?
And there is much talk of 'equalisation' and this change removing the post-code lottery as far as public services are concerned. I'm always suspicious of these fine sounding phrases which are another way of saying "You must not improve because it will show that everyone else is not performing". No Sue, on this occassion, I am not being hoodwinked by your soft and gentle words. As writing this post I have made up my mind, provisionally anyway. These ideas of yours are poison as far as local democracy is concerned.

PS. The best comment on TV last night was from Sue Essex when she said " You don't have to be big to be a good performer". It was just after I had read about the retirement of Ian Thorpe, the greatest swimmer of all time, who was reported to have size 17 feet!!

My Winter Fuel Allowance.

I needed a pick-me-up. It has been a tough week. I had to resolve on Monday to do nothing which might be 'stressful'. This damn infection, Staphylacoccus Aureau took hold last weekend and only now is being mastered. And then today along comes notification that my Winter Fuel Allowance of £200 will be paid directly into my account in the next few days. It is supposed to help us with the cost of our winter fuel bills - and many people will find it a huge help. But I will probably use it to buy trees for the garden and play my part in mitigating the impact of climate change - so helping some of the poorest people in the world. That is as worthy as you can get. I'm not going to 'blow it' on a good night out which in the past I might have been tempted to do. The Polly Toynbee effect is working already.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Is Polly Toynbee really a Tory Idol?

Everyone knows that I'm one of those 'bit soft' - 'bit leftie' Tories. Even though I'm blessed with a fine hairy chest, I'm not one for what Terry Grange calls the 'Hairy chest' approach to politics. For example, I was the only Welsh-speaking Tory that Post Prynhawn could find to explain to Gareth Glyn the merits of the 'Hug-a-Hoodie' speech. And I meant it.
But hang on a minute. There's a limit to what even I will sign up. We Tories claiming Polly Toynbee as some sort of guru, some sort of guiding star!. This cannot be. I read her column like I used to watch Casualty on the BBC. Simply to shout at the tele or the paper and condemn the political tosh being spread about by subversives. But its full the newspapers. And there we were on Newsnight last night speaking with the great lady herself. You've got to hand it to our man for brass neck. He was so lavish in his body language that our new guiding star didn't know what to say. And the Labour Minister, Jim Murphy was simply left opening his mouth with nothing of any note coming out of it. (By the way, Jim is one hell of a footballer and without question the Keepy-uppy King of British football. When he played against Wales in the Parliamentary Shield, he made such a monkey of Gareth Davies, the old Wales stand-off that he grabbed Jim around the throat and had to be dragged off).
For hours I have been in a daze. What am I going to say when David Davies, or his father, or Alun Cairns rings me and says "Isn't it fanfastic to read Polly's new ideas for tower block high taxes and ripping some money off those hard working high-earners"? But Boris Johnson has saved me yet again. He has a unique way of bringing light to the darkest of conundrums.
It seems, according to Boris, that Polly Toynbee lives her life as a Tory - working hard, earning all she can and using her wealth to give the best to her family. And at the same time using her position to influence opinion to persue her very genuine concern for the poorest and most vulnerable in society. I can live with that. So its a warm welcome to Polly Toynbee and thanks to Boris for showing me how to align my fundamental beliefs with my Party's developing policy agenda.

The New Royal Pad.

So The Prince of Wales is to buy his first home in Wales - near Llandovery in Carmarthenshire. This is 'good news' and 'bad news'.
First, the good news. Charles and Carmilla are buying a home in my constituecy. I have always been a big fan of The Prince and I was lucky enough to sit next to Carmilla at a dinner last year. She is a great dinner companion.
Now, the bad news. I had hoped that the Royal Couple would buy a home near Berriew, where we live. For several years they have stayed at Berriew for a few days every summer. Its always been a good party line for us to be sitting out in the garden with friends when the royal helicopter touches down nearby - and just drop in that it is The Prince of Wales touching down. And apart from anything else, it would probably put up the value of our property!!
I notice from a comment on Peter Black's blog that someone thinks Charles is putting off the purchase until after the Assembly Election - just in case Plaid Cymru win and he would qualify for a £5000 grant towards his purchase. If this is the case, Charles was a lot better polo player that he is a political pundit.