Saturday, September 30, 2006

Policies would be nice, Mr Cameron

David Cameron has put the Conservatives back in business by coming over as a thoroughly decent sort of fellow while Labour have turned on each other like ferrets in the proverbial sack. So we have reached first base. The question for us in Wales is when will Dave set out for second base - the one marked policy. We cannot work to the same timetable as the Party in Westminster because we have our Welsh general election next May 3rd - in 7 months time. I am not expecting much in the line of solid policy but it is reasonable to expect some idea of the 'direction of travel'.
Taxation is emerging as 'the' key issue, both in terms of the total tax take and whether we go for any 'green tax switch' as the Lib Dems like to call it. I have always been the sort of whimpy Tory asked to join discussions with talented Monmouth MP David Davies to provide 'balance' - but even I want to see some indication that we intend to reduce tax from the dizzy heights to which Gordon Brown has raised them. Bizarrely, the only politicians who have been talking about tax cuts in the conference season so far are the Lib Dems and Dafydd Wigley. Politics is a funny old world.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Dafydd El v Marek - round 8 ish.

Oh Dear! I hear that yesterday's meeting of the House Committee turned out to be a seriously buising affair. The two great protagonists rained wave upon wave of heavy artillary down upon the heads of each other. Collateral damage has not yet been assessed but the besandaled bridge master used an unusual convention by resigning from the chair. Has the Meirionydd Machiavelli forced a backwards step? What does this move mean? What cards do they each hold? No-one knows the answers yet.
The questions on the lips of observers are 'How long can this go on'? and 'When will the coup de grace be delivered'? For me, this is watching two old friends playing out a drama which I fear could turn out to be our own tragic version of West Side Story. The Government of Wales Act is going to leave the a field littered with casualties. We all want a new sleeker stronger National Assembly to emerge into the spring sunshine next May but I sense dark clouds approaching.

Admiral of the Fleet Sir Michael Pollack

Just read in today's Telegraph that Sir Michael Pollack has died. I first met him in the 1980s. I had been elected as Chair of the Montgomeryshire District Council and in a new 'openness' initiative was presenting the Council budget at a public meeting. The rather quietly spoken representative of Churchstoke Community Council stood up to ask a question. The novice hill farmer turned council leader was up against recently retired Admiral of the Fleet Sir Michael Patrick Pollack. CB. KCB. GCB., former First Sea Lord.
This was the man who had commanded the Ark Royal, the Tiger on which Harold Wilson met Ian Smith to try to settle the 'Rhodesia' question and who oversaw the first test firing of the Polaris Missile.
Sir Michael was a good listener and seemed just as committed to the affairs of the village of Churchstoke as he had been to the defence of the Realm. He was special which is why I telephoned several of my friends in the Welsh media. His passing should be noted with appreciation and respect.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Conferences and Coalitions

Two down and two to go. Ming had a good conference despite the stupid photo-ops with young female MPs traipsing behind him like doe-eyed groupies. I think this chap, Vince Cable is behind the more sensible things Ming is saying. I could do business with him. And I like some of the 'green tax switch' agenda too - but it goes way too far to be acceptable. And Ieuan seems to have had a decent conference as well. Even Martin Shipton in the Western Mail reckoned he looked like a leader. I feel sure he's had some voice training to 'Wigleyfy' his voice. Plaid didn't have their usual disaster and even the Meirionydd Machiavelli graced the platform to give his blessing. Wigley was on The Politics Show today advertising for coalition partners. I was a touch disappointed to hear him say 'anyone but the Tories'. I'm always nice about him. I've always had a high regard for the two Dafydds and I could do business with both of them as well. And the third Dafydd (Iwan) is a fabulous singer!!
Rhodri Morgan was on TV today getting in his excuses for defeat next May. "It will be all their fault at Westminster" says he. He knows that he is eight months from retirement. I was sure that he would go for the Lib - Lab Coalition again next May but I am becoming less certain by the day. There are definitely Labour AMs who would rather go into opposition than concede PR in Local Government - and they drool at the prospect of being allowed to think for themselves in opposition. Leighton could even express an opinion.
It is obvious that Wigley is angling for a Plaid - Labour Coalition. Anything is possible. Even the devout anti - Coalition man that I am can no longer rule out the idea of Tory involvement. With no taxation or foreign affairs powers and only limited law making power, the Rainbow Coalition could rise up from the rubble of post election chaos next May. My body shakes as I write such words and I will now make coffee to calm myself down.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Brynle's sex life.

Just read in the Daily Post that Brynle Williams would not give up sex even if it meant he could live to be 100. Not surprised to hear this - but surprised to see it reported in the media. I suspect the old fuel protester will not want to park his tanker in the lay-by (metaphorically speaking) even when he reaches 100. I understand that he even refuses to use 'unleaded' after he read an article in the Farmer's Weekly which suggested it had a negatlve effect on performance. Its great to see my old friend back to his ebulliant best after his recent bit of ill health.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Waterfront on form

Lee Waters gave Ieuan some stick on Waterfront last night - and it was well deserved. Ieuan was banging on about 'polcy before personality' against the background of yesterday's party political which was more like a 'Hello' video with Iuean looking like some sort of Welsh Ghandi. And we are having all these massive 'freebee' promises that are not remotely affordable. That long walk across Wales must have given him a Santa Claus complex. I suppose Plaid think it worked for Rhodri last time round. I desperately hope we don't join in this 'bidding war' in our manifesto.

And Lee's item on the NHS was well done too. We have all signed up to the Wanless health service reform agenda. We know that the 'no-change' approach is killing thousands of people. We know that there must be some rationalisation of services if we want the best value for money in the NHS. I think we all need to press the integrity button in this debate. I still think my suggestion in the Chamber last Thursday of a full three hour debate with 10 minute speeches on secondary care reform would flush out the opportunists.

The spellcheck on my computer does not recognise Ieuan - and suggests Iguana as an alternative. I have heard politicians described as reptiles before but it coming to something when my omputer agrees.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Today's media is full of the Welsh public's burgeoning love for their National Assembly. It seems that Electoral Commission research has found that 54% of people think devolution has improved the way Wales is governed - while only 13% think the opposite. Well, I had an email from a regular Wrexham correspondent who read my blog about'Welsh Water to English Cities' (Tuesday). He tells me he thinks that the 'expensive farce is falling apart and is on the point of collapse'. I should add that in the same email he went on to say that'if water is needed in London to satisfy the thirst of all those Welshmen who have been wise enough to move there, why not flood a valley or two to satisfy the situation. It may drown a few sheep but what the hell'. Clearly, not everyone is yet convinced of the need to take note of the sensitivities of Welsh history. I guess he is one of the 13%.
The downside of the same survey is that no-one has got a clue about what the Assembly actually does. Now this could be the master plan of those who want to see a proper law making Parliament set up in Wales. While everyone is prevented from finding out what the Assembly is doing, it will become ever more popular. I first grasped this principle some weeks ago when I read that Conservative policy on health at Westminster was now more popular than Labour's - and had been since David Cameron was elected our leader and, in effect decided that we do not have a policy on health at the moment because we are working on a new one which will not be ready until next year. Now we know why Rhodri Morgan never includes information in the answers he gives us.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Presiding Officer's Revenge.

Dafydd Elis Thomas visited the most bloody revenge upon his Deputy Presiding Officer, John Marek in the Chamber today. He did owe him one following the battle of the emails when Paul Silk's departure was announced a few days ago. John was presiding over 8 separate votes on Tory amendments when the voting was 28 for the Government and 28 for the Opposition. By the Assembly's casting vote protocol, John had to cast his vote for Labour and save the Government's skin on 8 separate occasions. It was like an old 'Rocky' film - painful to watch. The Labour benches cheered, the Opposition felt cheated, Rhodri shook off his 'tiredness' and smiled to himself while the Meirionydd Machiavelli was probably howling with laughter and videoing the whole thing so that he could watch it again whenever he feels the need for a a pick-me-up. Melding quipped " Two more votes and they will be giving him the whip back". There is no way the old chess master in sandals is going to take this lying down and I am waiting for his next move.

I was really disappointed not to get in on a question to Alun Pugh on youth participation in sport today. I wanted to put a plug in for the most inspirational sports personality of the year. If there is any justice in the world of sport, Nicole Cooke should win every award going in 2007. She has won the World Championships, the Women's Tour de France, virtually every other title going and she is the first British cyclist (male or female) to become the World no 1 - and she is Welsh. Nicole is just amazing and our Sports Minister should be giving her the same treatment that went to our Grand Slam boys 2 years ago.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Melding's new glasses

Top discussion point in the Assembly tearoom today has been David Melding's new glasses. They are bringing to life images of the past for his friends and colleagues. For me, he brings to life Hank Marvin and for others in our group it varies from Alan Wicker to Maurice Satchi. A man I have heard described as one of Wales' leading political commentators claims he looks like Ronnie Barker - or was it Ronnie Corbett.
I am sure that I heard Jonathon Morgan make a comparison with one of the Kray twins. I was unsure if he was talking about the new glasses or the disciplinary action David intends to dispense to anyone who leaks the contents of the election-winning manifesto that he is currently working on. Under normal circumstances David is the most engaging colleague but I for one am not going to take any risks. So no leaks from me!!
David has always been something of a fashion guru and trendsetter and I fully expect the new style to become the rage before long. For example it cannot be long until Leighton Andrews is wearing heavy rimmed specs on his new personal TV channel.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Welsh water for English cities

I am looking forward to the minority party debate tomorrow. Plaid Cymru are raising the emotive issue of transferring Welsh water to English cities. The bottom line is that the Government of Wales Act reserves the right to flood Welsh valleys to the Westminster Parliament. The ghost of Trewerin stalks the Welsh political landscape once again.
Of course it is too late to do anything about it. The Act has been passed months ago - but it is an interesting, complex and sensitive issue. I hope Plaid don't play the 'Wales the victim' card. When the Bill was going through Westminster, I instinctively took the view that the power should be devolved. But on reflection,I do not think it really makes that much difference.
The reality is that if there is a shortage of water in one part of the UK and a surplus in another, it is unthinkable that the water would not flow from one to the other. Rather like the laying of the LNG pipeline across Wales, the UK interest would have to prevail in the end. I daresay that comment will fire up a few people if I get the chance to speak tomorrow. The issue is at what price. Not only should every landowner and tenent affected be fully compensated but there should be some financial recognition for any community disruption as well. The days when flooding valleys was the cheap option has gone. The price has got to be high enough to force serious consideration of pipeline repairs, water storage and water saving in the South-East of England as well as a strategic objective of persuading people to locate to other parts of the UK. In my opinin flooding a Welsh valley should come at a high price. Maybe we will all agree.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Battle of Europe over rural development money.

This is a fogblog - strictly for those who understand the difference between voluntary modulation and compulsory modulation. It is crucially important to those who are affected as well as being very difficult to follow. My aim is to clear the fog so others can understand what is going on when the row breaks out.
Last week I met the deputy Chef de Cabinet of Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel's Cabinet, Klaus-Dieter Borchardt and three other members of the Cabinet in the Berlaymont in Brussels. Mr Borchart turned up mob-handed. He meant busines and he wanted me to know it. We talked about a few other issues but the key message was stark and emphatic. "There will be no discretion for member states to introduce 'voluntary' modulation within the Common Agricultural Policy to pay for member states next Rural Development Plans due to start on 1st Jan. '07." They will all have to make do with the EU agreed level of 5% 'compulsory' modulation. This completely derails the rural strategies of the Assembly and Westminster Governments - to such an extent that it is unacceptable. There is going to be a 'Battle of Europe'. There is also an added problem of the Parliament taking umbrage at not being properly consulted - and being intent on making its point by delaying matters.
The root of this problem is the pathetically small share of the rural development budget allocated to the UK in the recent EU budget agreement for 2007-2013 chaired by Tony Blair during the British Presidency - around 3% rather that the 10% it would be on a per capita calculation. The allocation is historically based - on what Mrs Thatcher claimed from the EU for rural development almost 20 years ago. In addition, the rural development budget for every nation state will be increased by 'compulsory' modulation (or top-slicing of other direct payments made to farmers) across the EU at the agreed EU rate of 5%. This is nothing like sufficient to fund the rural development plans of the UK Governments - and England in particular. In fact, the EU budget agreement allowed for 'voluntary' modulation at up to a rate of 20% which is probably about the level England needs. The EU position is simply not acceptable and there is going to be a real fight over this.
What is rather odd is that the EU Council of Ministers has agreed the principle of voluntary modulation already. It seems that Commissioner Fischer Boel does not accept the position or she has changed her mind. There was definitely a sense of 'Up Yours Brittania' about the tone coming out of the Commissioner's Cabinet. When I pointed out that this was a serious problem for UK Governments, the response was, in effect "tough". It seems that every other member state had asked for a bigger rural development pot during the budget discussions and had been given what were quaintly called 'presents'. But the UK delegation, led by the Prime Minister had not said a dickie-bird when it mattered.
In my opinion the Commissioner is going to have to give way on this. The stakes are too high. But there is no way in which the Rural Development Plans can be agreed in time for a Jan 1st start. I suspect that even the budget available will not be decided until sometime next year.
I hope that some of the fog has lifted - but I am not hopeful.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Hello Bloggers. I'm joining you. Glyn

My first week back in the political fray after August in the garden - except for attending umteen agricultural shows the length and breadth of Wales - and I have decided to plunge into the high risk world of the blogger. It will be my chance to take revenge on established Assembly bloggers, Peter Black and Leighton Andrews. Peter taught us all a valuable lesson last month about being careful about what is written on the weblog when he 'rubbished' Ming Cambell and found himself all over the UK news. I wonder what he thinks of his publicity obsessed Welsh leader, Lembit Opik. Probably about as much as he thinks of his Assembly leader, Mike German who we hear is plotting a new Lib-Lab coalition with Rhodri Morgan, with Peter being left out of the frame. But I had best be careful mentioning regard for the leader because I have had a bit of trouble in that direction myself.
August is my month for gardening and this year's main projects were a new 'prairie' border made up of grasses interspersed with 'White Swan' echinaceas and various kniphofias and a new 'boathouse'. Clwb Garddio were filming the garden last week and I have taken the chance to launch an attack on S4C's totally bizzarre decision not to commission another series of this great programme. I suppose S4C want to free up more time so as to inflict more trashy 'reality TV' with its Z list celebs on us.
I am quite looking forward to the new session in Cardiff Bay. Usually, in September, I dread having to go back to all the pathetic psuedo-anger and petty points scoring - but with the election looming next May, there could be a bit of sparky interest. How long will it be before Dafydd El is forced to chuck the Deputy Presiding Officer out of the Chamber because he is "putting the people of Wrexham before his personal interests"? And when will we detect the first signs of Rhodri and Mike German's new 'understanding'? And I am bound to enjoy the panic on the Labour benches as they realise Tony is hanging on and the opinion polls are turning blue, forcing them into bed with Mike German's gang of double-dealers. I am enjoying the prospect of becoming the official opposition even if it will be from the solitary position of a Tory backbencher - which will give me plenty of time for blogging.