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.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Bloggers Under Attack

The non-blogging world seems to becoming incredibly sensitive about what we bloggers post. This week, I hear that three of my blogs are causing unrest. And I hear non-bloggers going around boasting about how they have no time. Or it is too dangerous. Or even that the 'blogosphere' is a place of evil. Actually, I have some sympathy with the last point but like nuclear power, it can't be uninvented.
I accept that I blog 'near the edge'. It wouldn't be worthwhile any other way. No-one would read it and I would not be communicating at all. I just have to be certain that I am completely happy with what I post, that it doesn't cross the edge and that I would be happy to say it on a public platform. So far I've deleted only one - but of course its out there, like a Staphylococcus Aureus infection waiting to strike me down. This creates concern for those who wish me well - but inevitably opportunity for those who wish me ill. But that's politics for you. Anyway I like life near the edge. It makes the job a winner.

Rhodri faces up to public anger over Hospital Closures

There was a huge turnout on the front steps of the Sennedd today at a protest by people from all over Wales concerned about the future of Community Hospitals. It was clear that aside from the admirable Edwina Hart, no member of the Government was willing to face up to the people. Well done Edwina. She wins respect. It was obvious to us all that neither Rhodri Morgan nor Brian Gibbons was willing to face the anger of the hundreds present.
But fate played its hand. There was a photo-op arranged by Amnesty International on the steps just inside the front glass wall of the Sennedd of all the male AMs declaring their opposition to domestic violence at the same time. Rhodri was in the front row smiling (or at least trying) for the camara while 10 yards away 300 placard waving protesters were being conducted by Kirsty 'Barbarolli' Williams chanting his name. I have not yet seen the photographs but I see the word 'rictus' coming to my mind. The sheer oddness of the situation gave the rest of us had a genuine reason to smile.
Someone told me that Brian Gibbons came a touch late for the photo shoot and panicked in the way early settlers did in the Wild West when the Indians appeared over the Horizon. I refuse to believe that he was seen running full tilt across the top floor restaurant area shouting "Circle the Wagons".
It really was a first class protest and I think the Government are on the back foot. This is why they are doing everything they can to push any controversial decisions to the other side of the election.

From success to disaster in 10 in seconds

It is so easy to become carried away by public acclaim. Great 'gaffes' are often not far behind. Today, Leanne Wood had just asked a question about Owain Glyndwr Day - and I was able to make the easily forgotten point that Owain was instinctively and philosophicaly a Conservative. I was still basking in the warm welcome there was in the Chamber for this insisive obsevation - when I suggested that any new National Holiday in Wales should be clearly 'Welsh' and should be on ... May 1st!!. Reaching out to new voters is good strategy for the Conservative Party but this appeal for the Nye Bevan vote is too far even for me. I hope all the bloggers in the Chamber will thank me for presenting them with such rich pickings.

PS I just asked Alun Cairns the correct spelling of 'Bevan' and he tells me that he is of the same family. Now this is even more of a shock than that David Davies is of the same family as Owain Glyndwr.

My First Bribe?

I've often read about bribery in public life - but for some reason I've never been offered one. Until today! An 8 year old young lad from Merthyr offered me a little cuddly toy. I was lucky that my eagle-eyed PA, Phill stepped in to prevent me from committing the crime. Let me recount the circumstances.
A group of people from Merthyr who are fiercely opposed to open cast mining wanted to present a petition to the National Assembly. I accepted it on behalf of and as Chair of the Environment,Planning and Countryside Committee - for onwards transmission to the Petitions Clerk in the Table Office.
The problem for me was that I had to receive the petition and give absolutely no indication whether I supported the petitioners or not - or even whether I had any sympathy with the cause. I am, and for legal reasons I have to remain totally impartial about open cast applications. I was doing OK until the young lad asked me a tough question along the lines of whether I am in favour of protecting the children of Wales. Well, I could hardly say No to that. I think I squirmed my way out of one tricky situation - only to be completely floored when a cute little bag was produced containing a little cuddly toy. We politicians are programmed not to offend people if we can help it. I was searching around for the words when my trusty butler stepped in with "You are not allowed to receive this gift" he snarled. So I had to return the cuddly toy. I remain uncorrupted.

PS A bribe? Don't be daft. It was just my little joke.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Rhodri's Survival Plan. Not For Me

I hear strong rumours that tomorrow's Western Mail is going to report that Rhodri Morgan has decided to soldier on as a 'Minority Government' after next May's Assembly election if Labour manage to scrape 27 seats. They will do well to win 25, let alone 27. This is interesting because even a 27 Labour representation would need a majority of AMs to vote him in as First Minister. I just do not think the other parties would do it. And quite a few Labour AMs wouldn't want to either.
Now, despite Christine Gwyther's uplifting description of me as Nick Bourne's 'right-hand-man' in the Chamber today, I do not have any inside knowledge whatsoever about this. But I would be in favour of refusing to vote him in as First Minister. Coming back with even 27 would be a strong enough message that it is time for a change. And if Labour insist on presenting him as their choice to be First Minister a second time, I would expect the second biggest party (which I anticipate will be the new, modern, reasonable, Welsh Conservatives) to form an Assembly Government instead. Perhaps this is what Christine meant when she described me as a 'right-hand-man'.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Update on Rhodri's Biscuits

I got it wrong in my post on the standard of biscuits that Rhodri Morgan serves at meetings (which Nick Bourne tells us varies depending on the importance of the meeting). When it gets really serious he upgrades to sticky cakes. Apparently this is something to do with Sue Essex, who has always been the power behind Rhodri's throne. Last year when parry leaders were sorting out the budget row, Sue was in control telling Rhodri exactly what he could and could not say. And I daresay that the same applies this year.
She is a hard woman. Like a diamond. Tough as granite on the inside - but with the sparkle of sheer bloodyminded reasonableness on the outside. Its a big loss for the Assembly that Sue is retiring next May. I hope that the people who hand out end-of-year awards recognise the sheer talent of this woman. I supported her as my choice for 'AM of the Year' last year and I do so this year as well.

All Blacks and Welsh Blacks

Forget Kathryn Jenkins (difficult for any red-blooded male I grant). Forget Charlotte Church. Forget Siencyn, the goat. The Welsh Rugby Union are getting serious. An 800 kilo Welsh Black bull will be leading Stephen Jones' boys out onto the pitch at the Millenium Stadium on Saturday.
While Ritchie Macaw's All Blacks will be going through their Haka routine (with or without throat slitting), Cwmcae Brenin 3rd will be staring back at them, reminding them that they are merely mortal. Graham Henry has met the old boy before and will be only too aware of his inspiring influence. If Wales manage to spring a surprise by beating the All Blacks, the demand for Welsh Black meat will rocket. So a victory will put a smile on the face of the nation and put money in the pockets of farmers - a dream combination. Mark Jones must play though. regretably I do not think there is any room for Alfie in the starting 15.

18 New Assembly Measures. I don't believe it

Crikey. What have we done to deserve it. A new 'government' bill for Wales every week that 'government' sits. Wales could become the Legislation Capitol of the World - at least if Lord Elis-Thomas, our Presiding Officer has his way.
Last week we heard from Her Majesty, The Queen that her loyal Government intends to introduce 29 new Bills in the next session of Parliament. And today I read that our Presiding Officer wants 18 new pieces of legislation introduced by the National Assembly in the first year after it is given the power from next May to come up with new 'Assembly Measures'. I'm not sure what Dafydd has been taking with his coffee but I do not think this is remotely acheivable. 6 more like.
As always I think there is some method behind his madness. I agree with his Lordship that we must get to grips quickly with the new powers and it would be quite nice if we could bore the pants off MPs for retaining their involvement in the Assembly law-making process. But with just 60 AMs, any attempt to rush things will give amunition to those who want to do the Assembly down. I think quality of law-making is more important than quantity. And anyway we have far too many laws and regulations as it is. We should probably have one minister responsible for law-scrapping. Westminster certainly needs one.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Who's a 'venal, stupid, mendacious politician' then.

I read on BBC Online today that Mathew Taylor has launched an extraordinarily intemperate attack on the 'blogasphere'. I am not in the least bit surprised that Tony Blair's retiring Chief Strategy Officer is frustrated by the way the political 'spin machines' are losing control of news management as a result of the growth of political discussion on the internet. He really allowed his frustration to show through. He talks about 'the shrill discourse of demands' that dominate modern politics - as if it hasn't always been the same. The difference today is that it isn't only politicians who can do it. Everyone can - on the internet. Mathew Taylor bemoans the fact that the media portrays an image where 'leaders are out there to shaft you'. That is just what other political leaders have always done. What's new is that it isn't just the official media - which can be controlled through the licence fee or by threats to cut off the supply of information. Its anyone with access to the internet. Taylor goes completely over the top when he says that blogs are 'hostile and, generally speaking, basically see their job as every day exposing how venal, stupid, mendacious politicians are'. If that is what they did, no-one would read them.
The truth is that there is probably more mendacity in the world of politics than is posted on the Nation's blogs - and always has been. But it has been a game that the media has been a part of. I see it every day in the National Assembly and I suspect it is miles worse in Westminster. The rubbish that gets published - straight off party's official press releases!! Today, anybody can say what they actually think - within the bounds of reason and decency. And then there is the ultimate test. If it is not believed, it won't be read. The 'blogaspere' is giving politics back to the people and Mathew Taylor's successor had better get used to it.

No Dragons in Powys

It is reported by the BBC today that Powys Trading Standards have taken legal action against Black Mountain Smokery of Crickhowell to reassure its customers that there is no dragon meat in its popular Welsh Dragon Sausages. Mr Jobsworth, speaking on behalf of the Council said "the product name, Welsh Dragon Sausage was not sufficiently precise to inform the purchaser of the true nature of the food". You couldn't make it up. Mr Jobsworth then went on to explain that "We would not want vegetarians to buy the sausages by mistake". Excuse me, but I do not think vegetarians would want to eat dragon meat. The Council's last word was that they would be testing the sausages in the future - no doubt to ensure that no dragon has sneaked into the newly named Welsh Dragon Pork Sausages.
Many years ago a small company in Welshpool started manufacturing Hedgehog Crisps, a product that grew to be an internationally known brand. This 'dragon meat incident' has made me wonder if the virtual disappearance of hedgehogs from our countryside is a result of Powys Trading Standards being a bit lax in the past through not insisting that the product name be changed to Hedgehog Potato Crisps.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Dearest Ashok - "Who do I pay"

I hear that I have been nominated for one of the BBC's annual AM/PM Awards. Over the years I have been nominated several times but have never actually won. All this talk about the Prime Minister offering peerages for cash at a million pounds a go has made me think that I have not been adopting the correct approach. So, "Dearest Ashok, who do I make the cheque out to?"

Blogsceptics on 'Call to Order'

I was one of Patrick Hanaan's guests on tonight's 'Call To Order', the best political programme on radio. Patrick, in his inimitable way was mocking we bloggers. And Mike German, his other guest is also a 'blogsceptic'. I do not think that either Patrick or Mike realise that there is a communictions revolution going on. Even from a Lib Dem perspective, I reckon that there are more visitors to Peter Black's Blog in a day than hear anything Mike says in a week.
Patrick was particularly scathing about a post on Nick Bourne's Blog which informed us about the relationship between the biscuits that Rhodi Morgan offers him and the importance of the matter under discussion. It seems that at a recent meeting about the Assembly budget, when Rhodri really wanted to butter up the opposition, the biscuits were upgraded to 'Jammy Dodgers'. I don't agree with Patrick on this. It tells us quite a lot about how big decisions are arrived at.
When I was Leader of a Local Authority and Chair of a Quango, I always insisted that the biscuits were of the highest quality because first impressions are so important. I really can imagine our First Minister proffering assorted economy biscuits to 'Royalty', straight from the packet when he is working on his 'Clear Red Water' image or on his 'Good Bloke from the Dog and Duck' act. I cannot imagine the Presiding Officer offering anything less that the best designer biscuit. If I am ever elected to the position of First Minister, I can guarentee that the biscuits will always be of the highest quality - and presented on quality china.

Assembly Members - Hands On

Received a letter today from Brian Sirrell, a wheelchair user suffering from C.I.D.P. Brian attended a public meeting which I recently arranged in Welshpool Town Hall to consider hospital reorganisation plans. The meeting was up 3 flights of steep steps. Both Brian and I have been in cotact with the Town Council , who own and manage the Town Hall to point out how important it is that the lift is available when meetings are on.
Anyway, neither I nor Mick Bates, who attended my meeting were prepared to leave Brian stranded at the bottom of the steps. I took Mick's hands in mine, creating a makeshift seat, and carried Brian up the stairs while someone else carried his wheelchair. He was carried down again by Powys County Councillors David Jones and Barry Thomas.
Brian's letter thanked me for the 'support' he had received as a result of the 'hands-on' approach we take in doing our job.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Plaid's PPB - Old Hat

Watched Plaid Cymru's Party Political Broadcast tonight. It was promoted as a response to the Queen's Speech which was so graciously presented yesterday. But I saw the film featuring Adam Price banging on about 'Independence' on the internet weeks ago. We've been conned. It wasn't a response to the Queen's Speech at all. The Speech hadn't even been written when Adam made the PPB - or it was just a repeat. In so many ways today, you read it first in the blogosphere.
Perhaps it was just another Carmarthen based attempt to kill off any talk of a political deal with the Tories. This prattle about independence, which was the theme of the PPB has absolutely no appeal to Conservatives. Recently we saw Rhodri Glyn Thomas on Dragon's Eye desperately flogging the idea of a Plaid-Labour Coalition after next May's Assembly Election and now we have have this homily to this vague thing called Welsh independence. There clearly isn't much enthusiasm for dealing with Tories in Carmarthen
Reflecting on what might happen in Welsh politics next May is catching on. I dipped into Matt Withers blog today and there he was, warning Tories about the danger of deals with 'lefties'. He has just been to Berlin where they are struggling to sustain a 'Grand Coalition' of the CDU and SPD. This is the equivilent of a Labour-Tory Coalotion in Wales. No wonder its a struggle. That would be too far - even for me.

Tough Choices on Health

I missed an important debate today on reconfiguration of the NHS in Wales. I am looking forward to reading the Record of Proceedings tomorrow. And I abstained on another important vote yesterday on the location of a centre for Adult Neurosurgery. I was deeply concerned about both of the debates which, in effect, instucted the Assembly Government to act in a way which opposition parties wanted. On both, I did not have enough knowledge to feel able to so instuct with total confidence.
In the debate requiring the Adult Neurosurgery Centre to remain at Swansea, I felt some pressure to support the location of an important service in Swansea rather than Cardiff because it would be nearer to the constituency that I represent. But I want the best for my country as a whole, and voted for a Lib Dem amendment that such an important decision should be based on clinical need and not on political expediency. At least, that is how I saw it.
In the debate on reconfigaration (and I would have stayed if we could have won the vote) I would have voted to instuct the Government to stop the reconfigeration in its tracks - but with a heavy heart because I do not know what the consequences would have been. From a constituecy perspective, it would have stopped hospital closures in Mid and West Wales and this would have been enough to win my vote (together with the Chief Whip's instuction of course). But it does seeem a bit odd from a constitutional perspective for the opposition to stop the Assembly Government actually governing for six months - unless we are ready to step in and govern instead of them. I have heard some Labour members say that they hope opposition parties will do just that over the Budget vote in three weeks time. Exercising power is a difficult and serious business. The question is "has the moment arrived?".

The Name's Marek. John Marek.

Bond plays for high stakes and puts his very survival on the line. He does what no-one else would do. He goes where no-one else would go. He takes on the 'Big One', loses the early skirmishes - but in the end he survives. Danial Craig, the man with the Taggart looks is winning rave reviews in all the newspapers but we have our own devolved Bond. The name's Marek, John Marek.
Today, on the film set (otherwise known as the Debating Chamber) the reviewing critics, including this blogger, reckon the sandal wearing bridge master was seeking public ejection - but the Llywydd would not oblige. The Omnipitent One, normally so quick to flare up, remained ice cool. He too plays a good hand when the chips are down. But it is sad to see these two titans at war. One of them must fall lest the theatre will surely burn.
I am but a mere footsoldier but I have an opinion. It is time for our generals to end this combat. It cannot be allowed to carry on. It is time for the men in white coats to enter the stage. This situation would not be allowed to continue in a proper Parliament. Our leaders must show some leadership. My friend, John Marek looks to me like a hero doomed - but he will rise up again to defeat the arch villian, Labour at the May election. This is just a footsoldier's opinion.

Special People in Reading

Its midnight and I have just returned from Reading where I spoke at the first birthday celebration of the Colostomy Association. Missed an important debate on NHS reconfiguration and was grateful that our Chief Whip allowed me to go. These events are important to me. A roomful of very special people from all parts of the UK who know the value of life. Most people don't realise how valuable life is until they have been faced with the alternative.
For an hour before the speeches, I met several of these special people and immediately before speaking was talking a lady in her 70s who was waxing with admirable enthusiasm about her active sex life. I couldn't resist it. In my speech I made reference to the 'randy granny' I'd been talking to - in an entirely plauditory way. She was outraged. Demanded that I retract and refer to her properly - as a 'randy great-granny'. And I know she is going to read this post so I won't name her.
The odd thing about gatherings of ostomates (perhaps a colony is the best collective noun) is the depth of immediate friendship. I've only met Earnie Hulme four times ever but I will never forget that he came to talk to me when I was at my lowest point after surgery. I see him as one of my best friends - even though I hardly know him. And I only met Sue Hatton, the Chair of the CA for the first time tonight - and I immediately think of her as a good friend. I would walk a long way round for both of them. Playing Rugby was a bit like that. I feel that I did something really worthwhile tonight.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Caption Competition

A caption competition for this week. An early suggestion is 'He's not coming down my chimney'.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Planning Decision Panels. Just Hellish!

It is 9.30 in the evening and I still feel stunned. I am in the office, trying to work on the agenda for Wednesday's Environment, Planning and Countryside Committee - but I can't concentrate. It happens every time. And the reason. This afternoon, I have been chairing a Planning Decision Panel - a most appalling creation spawned by the ludicrous conception, consensus politics. Thank God it will be killed off by the new Government of Wales Bill after next May's election. But someone's got to do it. I think my wife feels a bit the same after going to the gym - and it takes her a while to recover.
What happens is that members of different political parties (how insane is this?)are brought together to decide on planning applications that the Minister has decided to call-in. They are often 'big' decisions. It makes no odds that different parties have different policy objectives. Decisions may well depend on who is elected to serve on any particular panel. And to make things worse we then all have to stand by the decision made as if we were all in full agreement. We cannot discuss it with anyone at all. This is the opposite of accountability and democracy. These decisions should be taken by the Minister. The sooner we can get rid of these hellish panels, the better. I am going home for an early night.

Alun Cairns - New Man

Headline Welsh Conservative economic policy in our Assembly election manifesto is a committment to provide more flexible working arrangements for parents and carers. The press release backing up today's launch promises Welsh businesses rate relief if they draw up schemes for childcare provision and flexible working. This is just the sort of innovative thinking that I like - helping the private sector deliver social policy objectives. Alun Cairns launched the policy at a nursery in Porthcawl this morning. Alun has always been a bit to the right of me in political terms - but it does look as if he is becoming 'New Man'. He has never been the same since young Henri was born. I really approve.
I understand that Alun was lowered into a playpen in the nursery to do the actual launch. There is no truth whatsoever in the story that he is still there.

Glyn Davies formal response to the Consultation on the future of the NHS in Shropshire

Clive Walsh
Programme Director - Service Plan
C/o Shropshire County Primary Care Trust
William Farr House
Mytton Oak Road

On 16 Oct you made a public presentation on behalf of the Shropshire County and Telford and Wrekin Primary Care Trusts to a public meeting held at Welshpool of your plans to reorganise hospital services at Shrewsbury and Telford. Very few people turned up – mainly because they didn’t know it was on. I attended this meeting because I wanted to reflect constituent’s concerns in the response that I intended to make to your Consultation Document – known as the Strategic Service Plan. Consequent on the poor attendance I arranged another meeting on 10 Nov and invited a few people to help me formulate my response. 250 people turned up, without any real advertising, which demonstrates the intense interest of the people of and around Montgomeryshire in what is happening in Shropshire’s NHS Services.

At the meeting, I explained that your Plan has been drawn up to meet three main objectives.

a) That the services delivered throughout Shropshire must be clinically sustainable
b) That the services must, as far as possible be acceptable to all key stakeholders
c) That the financial position of the Trusts must return to a position of balance by 2011/2012 – wiping out historic debt which in the case of the Shrewsbury and Telford Hospitals NHS trust has reached approx. £34 million.

The strongest message I want to convey to you following the meeting is that we want as many services as possible to be retained at Shrewsbury - especially those that are sensitive to time and distance. For many of us Shrewsbury is already a far enough distance away. We strongly support the retention of Accident and Emergency services, low risk maternity and paediatrics at the Royal Shrewsbury. We are also pleased that Children’s Services are to retain 24 hour medical staffing cover at Shrewsbury. We urge you not to compromise on these proposals as a result of pressure that you might receive from other parts of your ‘catchment area’.

However several people in Powys are deeply disappointed that inpatient Urology Services are to be moved to Telford. I repeated the usage level figures for these services which you had given to me (approx. 150 each year from Powys). I also repeated your assurance that some of these inpatient cases were likely to become outpatient cases in future and so continue to be dealt with at Shrewsbury. However the people at the meeting were concerned that a trend of taking services from Shrewsbury to Telford was being established. We believe this would be damaging to the provision of healthcare in Powys.

There was also great concern expressed about the ongoing difficulties in the relationship between the Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt NHS Hospital Trust and the Powys Local Health Board. We hope that the position will settle down quickly because so many patients awaiting treatment are concerned about where and when they will be treated. We are pleased that the relationship between the Local Health Board and the Shrewsbury and Telford Hospitals NHS Trust seems to have improved.

There were many other points raised at the meeting which did not relate directly to your Consultation Document. I am preparing a list which I shall send to you separately. However there was one issue which is a cause of widespread concern – the unacceptable delay in the development of the 6 station satellite renal dialysis unit which is planned for Welshpool Hospital. I realise that you share my concern on this point. I will be presenting a petition collected in and around Welshpool before my meeting to the Assembly Government Health Minister asking him to put pressure on Health Commission Wales. This unit is desperately needed.

I hope you will take note of the points which I have made as you prepare the final version of your Strategic Service Plan.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Weekend's Rugby Fest

It didn't seem like an international. 25,000 empty seats, an opposition who didn't know each other's Christian names playing Wales 2nds. But in the end it was an enjoyable game. If the Pacific Islanders had played together for a few weeks longer than the few days they had, Wales might have been up against it. Mark Jones has got to play against the All Blacks in two weeks time.
As for England. Oh Dear! But it would be a mistake to write them off for the six nations. They should sack Robinson tomorrow. If they bottle it, Rob Andrew is a wimp. And they need to bring in a few wild-eyed youngsters - not necessarily better but hungrier.
The All Blacks were simply awesome against France. My wife is becoming very taken with the beautiful Dan Carter, whose film star looks is so enhanced by the comparison with Nonu and Collins, two of the frightningest, ugliest rugby players that I have ever seen. Please don't tell them I wrote this. I will just pass on the embarrassing Springboks - except to write that I think England will beat them - even if Andy Robinson plays himself! I can't think of anything more disparaging to write.
I didn't notice who Rhodri Morgan was entertaining in the two new Assembly Government hospitality boxes he's inherited from the WDA and Wales Tourist Board - and which are paid for by the taxpayers. He will probably claim that he won two billion pounds worth of business from new contracts with the Pacific Islands!!

Wigley Half Right

I listened to Dafydd Wigley deliver an hour long speech at Newtown a few days ago about my old county of Montgomeryshire. It was full of 'Wigleyisms'. I just love it when he says something like "this is not the place to be political" - a sure sign that he is about to be exactly that. I only heard half of it but it was obvious that Dafydd had put in a tremendous amount of work in preparing a top class speech.
One of his 'non-political' comments was about the forthcoming Assembly election where Dafydd is helping Plaid by standing as a candidate in North Wales. (I will eat cooked rat if he is elected - Ron Davies has got more chance as an Independent in Caerphilly). He opined that it is crucial for politics in Wales (and for turnout) that there should be an alternative to Labour. 100% right. He then said that the only alternative is a Labour-led Coalition. 100% wrong. The alternative must be a Government without Labour - or in other words a Plaid/Lib Dem/Tory Government led by the biggest party after Labour - which I have not the slightest doubt will be the new, modern, reasonable Tories.
Some people don't think that I am serious about this. Well, think on this. I am going around being really nice to and about Mick Bates (really nice man) which for me is the political equivilent of eating cooked rat.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Tory - Lib Dem Cooperation.

I'd called a meeting tonight in Welshpool for people interested in a Consultation Document about the future of hospital services in Shropshire. About 250 people turned up, including one man in a wheelchair who couldn't get into the meeting because the lift was inaccessible. Mick Bates had dropped in for the first 10 minutes of the meeting - so Mick and I held hands and created an arms cradle to carry the gentleman up the flights of stairs to the meeting which had been moved to the Town Hall because so many people came. This was cross party cooperation of the highest order. Maybe a sign of things to come ?
We were not really prepared for so many - so had not organised a mike. My voice is quite strong but those asking questions could not be heard at the back of the hall. The Mayor of Welshpool, Ann Davies, sitting in the front row suggested that I ask questioners to stand up - just as the man in the wheelchair indicated that he wanted to speak. I couldn't resist it. I told the meeting what Ann had said and asked him to stand up to ask his question. It brought the house down. Although I already knew from our adventure getting him in that he had a real sense of fun, looking back, I suppose it was still a bit of a risk. It was a joke that could easily have gone wrong.
As a general rule I try to treat disabled people as if they were not disabled at all. Tonight, it was the right thing to do and the man in the wheelchair made an excellent speech.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Graham Poll yet again

McFadden actually called Graham Poll an 'f****** Shite' - and he still moaned about the red card! I remember being sent off when playing for Caereinion High School against Llanfyllin High School about 48 years ago for something similar.Unfortunately the ref was the Deputy Head. Anyway Everton manager, David Moyes was none too impressed and fined McFadden £10,000 - probably about 40 minutes wages.
Another football story I read about this week related to a team in West Sussex called GSK Pheonix. The bus arrived for a cup game at Ifield Edwards and broke the news that one of their longstanding and most popular players had died the night before - but in accordance with the deceased player's last wish, the game should go ahead. A minute's silence was observed and GSK pulled off a shock victory. But no-one really cared about the result. Sport and its camaraderie was the winner - until the deceased walked into the clubhouse for a pint two hours later. The whole GSK squad has been reported by the referee to the Sussex Football Association.

Marek Resigns

It has been announced that John Marek AM, The National Assembly for Wales' Deputy Presiding Officer has resigned from his position as Chair of the National Assembly's House Committee - and you will be just as interested to know that a community councillor in my village coughed during last night's council meeting. The BBC covered the first story but for some inexplicable reason did not cover the second.

Graham Poll Again

I allowed myself to offer some sympathy to the accident-prone refereee, Graham Poll in a post two days ago. This was the first man in history to give three yellow cards in a world cup match. He was then accused last week by the increasingly paranoid Chelsea manager of being part of an anti Chelsea conspiracy. And then he dismised Everton's James McFadden on Sunday for calling him a 'CHEAT'. McFadden's defence is that Poll misheard and that he actually called him a 'SHITE'. So that's all right then. Who in their right mind would want to be a football referee

A Poke in the Eye for Rhodri

Rhodri Morgan was all over the political coverage last night pleading for every Labour supporter not to allow their antipathy to Tony Blair to influence their vote in the Assembly election. Don't use your vote in Wales 'to poke Blair in the eye' seems a fair interpretation of his message. In general, Rhodri seems to be adopting a 'core vote' strategy. Listen to a Tory, Rhodri. It doesn't work.
And he cannot let 'bygones be bygones' either. Rhodri is not forgetting the way Peter Hain tried to stop him from becoming First Minister. He came up with another bizarre reason for not supporting Peter for the 'Deputy to Gordon Brown' job. He cannot think about this until Gordon Brown has actually taken over in Gordon Brown's new job!! Yet again, he just made himself look as daft as a brush.
Tory Councillor, Peter Davies was clearly enjoying himself last night on both Dragon's Eye and Waterfront. Peter has crossed Nick Bourne by writing to the Western Mail suggesting that the Assembly should be scrapped to save money - and seems likely to be suspended as a candidate for this heresy.He does 'injured innocence' very well indeed and he seemed to have some support. New Shadow Minister, David Jones allowed an amused smile to dance playfully across his face when responding to Peter's comments - which seems to me to be exactly the right response. David has made a great start to his new job and will be a great support to Cheryl.
Oh, and Rhodri is going to be in trouble with the formidable Ann Jones AM for using the term 'bed blocking' last night. In the Chamber last week she launched into our Jonathon Morgan for using such politically incorrect terminology. Apparently the 'correct' phrase is 'delayed transfer of care'. So congrats to Rhodri for using language people can understand - and I never thought that I would ever say that about the mangled wordsmith that has left us nonplussed by his convolutions for years.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Welcome for Claire Clancy

Welcome to Claire Clancy, who is being recommended to Assembly Members next week to take over from Paul Silk as Chief Executive of the National Assembly.
In order to find out a bit more about our new signing, I visited Google to check out the present Chief Executive of Companies House and Regulator of Companies for England and Wales - and up popped a photograph of someone I knew as Claire Coates. Claire was Chief Executive of the Powys TEC in the early 90s while I was Chair of the Development Board for Rural Wales and she roped me in as a member of her organisation. It is a small world.
I remember Claire as being committed and professionl. It will be nice to catch up on the ups and downs of our respective lives/careers (clearly all ups in Claire's case) when she joins us.Her new job will not be an easy one and I hope she enjoys success.
I read on Google that an important part of her current job is winding up limited companies - much the same as I try to do. We Tories try to wind up the Labour Government all the time and they don't come more limited that them!!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Referee is Always Right.

Yet again, the game of rugby is showing the world the proper way to behave. The reaction of the England rugby team last Sunday to the totally bizarre decision by the referee not to award Jamie Noon's try was impressively dignified. How am I supposed to carry on suporting every team playing England in the face of such dignity.
This comes to my mind after hearing critisism of our own referee in the National Assembly, Lord Dafydd Elis Thomas - and the utterly contemptible behaviour of the Chelsea team and manager (excepting captain, John Terry) towards Graham Poll after the Tottenham defeat.
I have to admit that I also disagreed with the reaction of some MPs in the House of Commons following the ludicrous decision by the Speaker when he stopped David Cameron asking a perfectly proper question of the Prime Minister.
The reality is that 'Gorbals Mick' was totally 'out of order', Graham Poll does not always get it right and Dafydd El is sometimes a law unto himself- but they are the referees. Any mistakes should be dealt with outside the field of combat.
The more that I think about this, the more respect that I have for the English boys - and especially for Jamie Noon, who had what was probably his greatest dream ruled out unfairly. He had scored against the All Blacks at Twickenham and it was not allowed and he just shrugged his shoulders and got on with the game. That's class.

What is Japanese for Tir Mynydd.

I attended the first reception ever hosted by a Japanese Ambassador in the Assembly Building today. Rhodri Morgan was in fine form - telling us about the historical effectiveness of Welsh - Japanese cooperation. It seems that in the war between Japan and Russia some 100 years ago, it was the link with Wales that delivered victory to the Japanese. At that time early knowledge of the approaching fleet was crucial in sea battle - with both sides looking out for the smoke rising from ship's funnels, before the ships themselves came into sight over the horizon. The Japanese used Welsh coal which did not create any smoke at all which gave the Japanese the winning advantage. As Rhodri said, when Wales and Japan work in harness, they can overcome the most formidable challenge. I wonder what President Putin will think of this one when he calls by the Assembly!!
After the speeches, I searched out the Ambassador for a chat. I had become very friendly with one of his predessessors, Mr Chiba, in the 1980s and thought he would surely know him. Couldn't find him anywhere. Searched high and low. Finally located him cowering behind a pillar with Brynle Williams explaining the reasons why we Tories are fighting so hard to retain funding for Tir Mynnydd. The poor man looked dazed. Brynle was moving on to 'voluntary modulation' when I intervened to avoid a diplomatic incident. But there was no stopping Brynle now. He moved straight on to the Ambassodor's wife, who is now as expert on the CAP. I thought the Japanese were reserved but there is a picture on Brynle's phone of the old rascal with his great hairy arms around all the Japanese ladies, including the Ambassador's wife. Brynle is obviously the Brad Pitt of the Welsh farming world.
Interestingly, the only thing that the Ambassador wants is for Wales to vote for the holding of the next but two Rugby World Cup in Japan. I was disgusted that the next but one World Cup is not being held there. I noticed that Roger Lewis, the new Chief Executive of the Welsh Rugby Union was there . I hope he was listening.

Mr Peter Davies - former Tory Assembly Candidate

I see that my old friend Peter Davies is to be suspended from the Conservative National Assembly list of candidates. I am sorry to hear this because I have always depended on Peter to stop me from becoming too much of a Conservative soggy 'wet'. It seems his crime was to publicly declare his desire to see the National Assembly abolished.
I suspect that Peter will enjoy launching his 'Save the Newport One ' campaign. It seems that we are all going to have to be very careful what we say or we will be instantly suspended - so I will stop now.

First signs of peace.

Watching Dafydd Elis Thomas and John Marek perform is like watching two cock robins in spring setting the boundaries of their breeding territory. What cunning masterstroke are they playing? We AMs just look on in bewilderment as these two circle each other, as do fencing champions looking for an opening.
First move in today's Assembly proceedings was when the Meirionydd Machiavelli took our breathe away with no more than a casual aside. When he was forced to cast his vote against the Government's Business Statement (as a direct result of John Marek's no doubt calculated absence) he says " I cast my vote against because protocol says I must - but with a heavy heart". What on earth did this mean?
And then the besandaled bridge master delivered his stunning reposte. He referred to Dafydd El as Sir when thanking him for all that which he had done during his presentation of the House Committee Report. Was this studied deference a first (and welcome) sign of peace breaking out in the Presiding Office - or was it merely a playful put down?
We do not know - but I do know that cock robins fight to the death.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Labour Split in the Assembly

Over the last few years, we have been trying to drive a wedge between Labour AMs - and at last I acheived it today. I raised the issue of football in Wales. Leighton Andrews is a fan of Ton Pentre who pulled off a cup shock on Saturday by dumping Ann Jones' Rhyl out of the Welsh Cup.
On the serious point I raised, I was dissappoited by the First Minister's response. I am told by Welsh Premier clubs that the FAW has agreed to UEFA demands for ground improvements that are impossible to meet. Clubs are threatened with extinction.
What I'm told by some Welsh Premier clubs is that David Collins, the Secretary General of the FAW is so keen to become a member of UEFA that he would agree to anything . I do not know whether this is fair but it is what some of the clubs are telling me.
I suggested to the First Minister that this issue is so important that he should either offer some cash to enable the cubs to meet the demands - or better still intercede with UEFA to win more time for the clubs to carry out the improvements or, even better still, reduce the demands. The First Minister simply does not realise how important to Welsh football is the Welsh Premier.

Should he Stay or Should he Go.

You should visit the blog of Iain Dale or Peter Black today. The video clip - 'Should he stay or Should he Go' is one of the best films I have seen for ages. It is enough to make you cry and laugh at the same time.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Sensible U-Turn at the National Trust.

I see that the members of the National Trust have voted almost 2 to 1 to support the return of hunting of deer on its property. It was also great to see the splendid Labour MP for Vauxhall, Kate Hoey in Carmarthen last week. She is the Chair of the Countryside Alliance and a politician of deep principles and she was calling for the Hunting Ban to be reversed. I was really sorry that I couldn't go to meet her and the CA's dynamic Chief Executive, Simon Hart who lives in the area. I hope that David Cameron stands by his promise to overturn the Hunting with Dogs Act when he becomes Prime Minister. It is an act conceived in prejudice and unworkable in practice. I have just become an even more avid supporter of the National Trust

Middle East Depression

A really depressing piece by John Keegan in the Telegraph. He writes about the inevitable attack by Israel on Hezbollah before Xmas. John Keegan knows his stuff.
I now find it almost impossible to settle on an opinion about these issues. Since the Prime Minister told us such untruths about the intelligence leading up to the decision to invade Iraq, I find it impossible to believe anything he says. How will we all react when there is another bloodbath in South Lebanon in a month's time when there is no national leader that anyone believes? The next few months are going to be a testing time for the Foreign Secretary and for William Hague, our Foreign Affairs spokeman. It might also be a testing time for the parties chief whips.

"Don't embarrass the Government" before the election

Last week, the Chair of Powys Local Health Board sent a 'confidential' letter to a few selected persons. It read as follows,

"Andy has recently met with Ann Lloyd, Chief Executive, NHS Wales, to discuss the timing of possible public consultation in Powys.

Ann advised him that Welsh Assembly Government will be issuing guidance on the future of community services and community hospitals in December.

She also advised that Welsh Assembly Government would be reluctant to see public consultation exercises run in the lead up to the Assembly Elections and that as a consequence we should be planning to commence public consultation in June or July 2007 at the earliest. Ann acknowledged that this would have to be reflected in a revised SCEP.

In light of this we may as a Board wish to rethink the timetable for implementing 'Doing More Doing Better' in discussion with Andy. I am calling an informal Board Briefing for 2.30pm 15th November to allow us an opportunity to consider these issues ahead of the informal Board meeting on the 29th.

The venue of the Board meeting will be confirmed shortly but I am trying to arrange it in Llandrindod Wells.

Regards, Chris"

Chris Mann and Andy Williams are the Chair and Chief Executive of the Powys Local Health Board, which has taken the highly controversial decision to close 3 Community Hospitals in Powys. Ann Lloyd is the civil servant who heads up the NHS in Wales.
If one were of a cynical mind one could easily think that there may have been a suggestion from an 'independent' civil servant to an 'independent' LHB to ensure that there is no damaging publicity for the Labour Government before the Assembly Election next May.
It will also be interesting for the public who attend the 'open' LHB Board meeting on the 29th to know that there has already been a pre-meeting to sort out 'the line to take'.
I just thought I would let the people of Llanidloes, Knighton and Builth Wells know about this.

"Labour to Lose" says Peter Hain

Interesing to read over in the weekend papers that Peter Hain thinks Labour will lose the next General Election. He thinks that Labour has done too much lecturing and that Labour has lost the support of people who look to Government to extend democracy. Anyone who has followed closely the passage of the Government of Wales Act will know exactly what he means. Peter himself should be given 100 lines - 'Thou shall respect democracy' following his involvement in fixing the Assembly election system to benefit Labour when every independent voice was telling him not to do it. And even now, Labour is trying to fix the Standing Orders of the National Assembly from next May onwards to benefit the future governing party - because they think that it will always include Labour. This is the reason why I am so publicly putting a non-Labour alternative, the 'Rainbow Coalition' in the field of play. And Peter knows only too well what is going on. I just hope he means what he says and its not just more meaningless spin.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Hard Men from Criccieth to Canberra - Take two

Just competed in the village quiz, the mental stress of which has driven all anger from my soul. So I've decided to rewrite my yesterday's 'post' which was composed with intent to wound. And anyway, Labour Assembly candidate, Alun Davies is not such a bad fellow really.
Friday night, I ventured into the heart of Plaid territory, the Marine at Criccieth where I met the hard men of the local county branch of the Farmers Union of Wales. They don't take prisoners in the FUW. They fight to win. Even the gimlett-eyed proposer of the vote of thanks said that since I couldn't promise to increase the level of Tir Mynnydd payments, the Environment, Planning and Countryside Committee, which I chair might as well be blown up. To make matters worse, I reckon he was reading from notes he'd written before the meeting. Alun was my fellow-panellist. I will say no more than that I took quiet exception to his constant references to someone called Lady Porter who is currently holed up in Israel. 'Guilt by association' was the aim. I must stop because anger is returning!! At least he turned up - which is more than can be said for Plaid or the Lib Dems.
Saturday, I was guest of the Beeb in their hospitality box at the Millenium Stadium. Great game. Hook was as good as we hoped when called on. Henson proved me wrong. I really thought Evans, the Scarlets centre should have played in the centre with Shanklin. Moment of the match for me was the defensive scrum on our own line five minutes from time. Like most I was left gasping at the end - with mixed feelings. The Aussies should have been out of sight after 20 minutes - but at the death I felt cheated because the whistle went with the next play a line-out 6 inches from the Aussies line. We would have won with Mark Jones in the team.
The Austalian Management team had taken the next box to us. They were all huge handsome crocodile hunters with broken noses. They were every bit as fearsome as the Criccieth FUW and I asked very politely before taking the photo at half time. No-one smiled for the camara. They wanted to win. John Connelly sat motionless with his eyes fixed on the game and smiled less than Graham Henry would have done. Scott Johnstone never stood still for a second. He is still much loved in Wales but I can't help suspect he had a role in the The Ruddockgate Affair.
And watched the England game on TV today. I am trying desperately not to feel such a passionate and irrational desire to see England fail - against anyone!. The utterly bizarre decision not to award Noon's first try helped by makink me feel sorry for them. I think my wife now loves Dan Carter more than Pat Cash. Some people are just too good to be true - and Carter is one. Moment of the match for me was Graham Henry's smile when interviewed. He is supposed to have relations in Wales and my guess is they come from Criccieth farming stock.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Cancer message getting through

The life of a politician can sometimes seem rather futile - especially in opposition. (Which is why I cannot understand those Conservatives who would rather remain in opposition for ever than try to work out a deal with Plaid Cymru and the Lib Dems to consider forming a government.) So it is really quite satisfying to save someone's life!
I have just received an email from my stoma nurse, telling me that the colorectal cancer team at Shrewsbury, who operated on me have just diagnosed a case of bowel cancer in someone who heard me on my soapbox, campaigning for people with anal bleeding or irregular bowel function to 'Go and see your doctor'. Could be another life saved. This makes all the c*** I have to put up with in the Debating Chamber bearable.
I was treated for colorectal cancer in 2002 and was so unbelievably lucky to be 'caught' early. I do a lot of awareness work and try to live in a way which demonstrates that one can lose the backside and rectum - and still live life to the full. Off to Reading next week to speak on another Bowel Cancer Platform. More lives to be saved!! Over 16,000 people die of Bowel Cancer every year - and many of them would fully recover if treated soon enough.

Me buttering up to Cameron on waste.

Home from Vienna, just in time to catch Jeremy Coleman having a grilling on Dragon's Eye. And I have to say he looked a bit shaky. It was interesting to hear the Audit 'supremo' in Wales complaining that the media were making a story out of unfair accusations and not looking at what he has acheived - or taking a common sense approach to a senior staff appointment. I don't remember much sympathy from the National Audit Office when I could have said exactly the same thing myself a few years ago - when I resigned as Chairman of the Development Board for Rural Wales. The audit bosses at the time were happy enough to see me skewered - whether it was deserved or not. And I thought it wasn't. As it happens I rather like Jeremy Coleman, so I will leave the matter lie.
Another on the rack tonight was Plaid Leader, Elfyn Llwyd, who was 'working' in Madrid when the most important debate ever for Plaid Cymru was going on in London. I don't blame Elfyn. It is rather nice in Madrid - and bitingly cold in London. The little jaunt didn't do much for Elfyn's mood. He was so grumpy that its easy to understand why Peter Hain is not talking to him at the moment. Anyway he was better off in Madrid. If he'd been home Adam Price would have overshadowed him.
I was a bit chuffed to see our David Cameron on ITV talking about 'maximising the influence of Conservatives in Wales' after the next Assembly election - and with a special mention of dealing with waste. It sounds like he wouldn't mind the 'Rainbow Coalition' - although why Lee was going on about it being led by the 'separatists' is beyond me. I suppose one needs a degree of fantasy to so successfully front a programme like Waterfront!!
Now this 'waste' issue that Dave correctly sees as so important. I visited MVA Spittelan this morning, a waste incinerater in Vienna which looked like a cross between a kiddies playhouse and the Bridgend shopping centre on the M4. A photograph will be added tomorrow.
This incinerater is bang in the middle of Vienna and no-one takes the slightest notice of it. There is a 60,000 student university just 50 yards to one side and masses of housing 50 yards to the other side. The plant manager, a Hr Kitchner, who for some reason is known as 'Chuchill' in the plant, showed me around. It was built by the Government midst great controvosy in 1969 and refurbished after a fire with more controversy in 1989. today, it has been privatised and attracts no controversy at all. In Austria there is acceptance by everyone that the principle of incineration is right and only 1% of waste is landfilled.
In Austria, it used to be the case that politicians hyped up local concerns about incineration in order to create a bandwagon - which they then jumped on for personal advantage. But the politics of waste grew up in Austria, as the alternatives disappeared. Recycling and incineration are the future in Wales as well. We had better get used to it.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Wien - beautiful city

Vienna is a truly beautiful city with impressive buildings in enough space to appreciate them. Great palaces, statues and trees everywhere - and I´ve come here to look at their rubbish.
The federal Parliament was built in the 19th century - designed by a Dane who lived in Greece which is why it would not have looked out of place in ancient Athens. Oddly, the most impressive debating chamber in the Parliament is of Roman design - because the architects felt there would sometimes be a need for Roman ´action´ as well as Greek ´philosophy´. This chamber is only used for high state action such as declaring war. Since Austria leaves declaring war to the US and the UK these days, the chamber is hardly ever used. At least I have an answer when people ask me what the old Assembly Chamber can be used for. It can be used if Dafydd Elis Thomas ever decides to officially declare war on his depĆ¼ty.
Coalition talks have broken down in Austria. Following last weeks election the Conservatives and Social Democrats had been considering getting together to form the new government. But the Social Democrats made the mistake of making an absolute committment that the Conservatives could not possibly accept - so now there will be months cobbling together a multi-party coalition that will satisfy no-one. We Tories need to learn this lesson and I will be passing this message to David Melding , who is writing our manifesto. I don´t want to see an absolute committment to privatizing the NHS - or anything like that. We can already see the difficulty poor old Mike German is in with his party determined to make PR in local government an absolute condition of coalition with Labour. After all, all Mike wants is a ministerial car.
Tomorrow morning I am off to see a town centre incineration plant. Oh, what joy it is to be in Wien.