Monday, December 31, 2007

Dave in my world.

I really enjoyed reading about David Cameron helping to deliver lambs on his neighbour's farm in Oxfordshire in today's Mail on Sunday. Its a pity that he spent only 15 minutes in the lambing shed and that his offer to pull out the lambs himself was not accepted by Julian Tustion. It would have been a lovely Xmas story. It would also have been a great experience for David. I've sorted out many thousands of difficult births, of both cows and sheep, during my lifetime, and it never stopped being satisfying - especially when things became complicated.

Of course, it doesn't always turn out well, depending what the problem is. In this case it seems to have been a case of the lamb being wrongly presented. Normally the lamb would emerge a bit like a human diving into a swimming pool - its front legs and head coming together. Even then problems can arise if the lamb is a 'single' and is just too large. If the lamb is presented with just one front leg and its head, it can be pulled out, as long as the other front leg is trailing backwards, and not bent with its knee coming forwards. If the front legs are presented without the head at all, the lamb has to go back and the head retrieved. Sometimes, especially if the ewe has been striving for a long time, the head can be difficult to reach. Now if the head is coming on its own, there can be real problems, because the head swells up quickly and it can be the devil of a job to push it back - but back its got to go. Otherwise it would have to be cut off, which is what I've done if the lamb has died. We also have to be careful when there are two legs presented to ensure that its not the back legs coming first. I always check by feeling for the lambs tail. Lambs born backwards are fine if the birth is assisted (and therefore quick). Unassisted , the lamb can sometimes be out, but its nose and mouth still within the ewe, thus being suffocated. The worst cases of all are when the lamb is coming back first - no legs or head. Problem here is that it takes an experienced eye to notice that the ewe is actually trying to 'lamb' at all. There is nothing in sight and if intervention is not sufficiently early, the lamb will die within the womb. Of course, everything becomes much more complicated if there are two or three lambs and you cannot be sure which legs and head belong to which lamb - especially if one (or two) are coming forwards and one (or two) are coming backwards at the same time. And it becomes a deeply unpleasant task for the shepherd if the lambs have been dead inside the ewe for a few days. Because they rot and come out in pieces. This can make the ewe rather sickly and she will need antibiotics. It is a pity that David Cameron did not have a week to spend on his neighbour's farm. He would have learned so much about how to successfully increase the size of his flock.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Congratulations Mick!

You all know that I like Montgomeryshire people to do well. This blog likes to acknowledge the sons and daughters of my old county who win awards. And I do not exclude my Liberal Democrat opponents. Fair's fair. So lets hear it for Mick Bates, Montgomeryshire's directly elected Liberal Democrat Assembly Member (as Carl Sargeant would say) who has yet again won the Wales on Sunday's annual award for 'Buffoon of the Year'. In fact Mick has won this title so ofter that the award has been renamed 'The Mick Bates Buffoon of the Year Award'. It really is enough to make those who love Montgomeryshire weep.

Highs and Lows

Just visited Sanddef's blog where he asks us to consider our high and low points for 2007. My extremities are personal - losing my National Assembly for Wales position in last May's election and the birth of Ffion, our first grandchild. But these things are of little interest to you, dear readers, even if they have changed my life, both in what I do with my time and how I think about things.

On happenings in the wider political world, which is what I think Sanddef was referring to, I think that the Conservative Party becoming electable again on the first week in October was my high point - while the evaporation of the Rainbow Coalition, which would have ejected the Labour Party out of the Government of Wales, was my low point. If I'd been elected last May, I would have done everything I could have to bring the 'Rainbow' into existance, and been near to despair . So near and yet so far. Labour hegemony rolls on while Wales suffers. And what of next year. Perhaps I'll post on this tomorrow.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Margaret Thatcher recalled

The interesting David Williamson wrote a piece about Margaret Thatcher's legacy which was published in Thursday's Western Mail. I know its two days late, but I want to chip in my 'two pennyworth'. Perhaps unusually for a Conservative politician, I don't think I've ever invoked the name of Mrs Thatcher gratuitously, either to praise or condemn. But I do consider her to have been the best Prime Minister of the United Kingdom within my memory - particularly during the early years of her premiership. It seemed to me that she sought office to make a difference, rather than for its own sake. And in general, I approved of the difference she made. Its interesting that both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown have wanted to associate themselves with her during their stays at No 10, Downing St..

It was the Thatcher Government that dragged industrial relations and the British economy back from the brink of chaos in the early 80s. There was a stand off with militant trade unions that the Government simply had to win. She was fortunate that the powerful coal mining union was led by a vain and foolish man named Arthur Scargill, who was sustained by a loyalty that he did not deserve. It was truly a case of lions led to defeat by a donkey. The legacy of this war still marks political opinion in the valleys of Wales. I sometimes try to imagine how much of the economic base of the coalfields would have been saved if the miners had been led by a man with the vision and skill of Tyrone Sullivan, who led the Tower buy-out and has always been a genuine Welsh hero to me.

The Thatcher Government also displayed great courage in international politics - and much of this was down to Mrs Thatcher's determined personality. History will probably record that it was Mrs Thatcher who put the necessary steel into George Bush to emancipate Kuwait following the Iraqi invasion. And I suspect very few British politicians would have had the b**** to take on Galtieri to expel his occupancy of the Falkland Islands. She helped bring order on both the national and international plane.

But her greatest achievement was to roll back the state through measures such as the privatization of utilities and the sale of council houses. There are still some who believe that nationalisation of business is sensible (Northern Rock being a current example) , that the state should act as social landlord to the population, and that there is no room for independent alternatives or involvement in the delivery of our public services. But thankfully not many.

I did not agree with all that Thatcher Government's did. I was Chair of a Welsh Local Authority when the Community Charge (usually referred to as the Poll Tax) was introduced - and I accepted our Treasurer's opinion at the time that it was unworkable. And I thought the uncompromising rhetoric during the latter part of her premiership portrayed us as being much more uncaring and divisive than we need have been. But I still think she stands head and shoulders above anyone else who has held the office of Prime Minister since the war. She set out to make a difference, and she succeeded. And the credit balance far outweighs the debit side.

Down with Supermarkets.

I've been going on so much about how beautiful Montgomeryshire is that Edna Mopbucket decided to spend Xmas amongst us. Met her for a coffee today and she told me a damn funny story. She was driving into Welshpool just before Xmas when she picked up a 'pedestrian' walking into town.

"What's so important that you must walk into town in this rain", asked our Edna.

"Must get to the new Sainsbury's before it closes for Xmas" was the reply.

"Last minute shopping I suppose".

"Yes, but not for me. I'm shopping for an important local dignitary who wants some things from Sainsbury's, but who has made such a hoo-hah about supermarkets damaging Welshpool that this person is unable to be seen entering a supermarket in person! I'm just helping out."

Actually the quote is not entirely accurate, in that Edna did tell me who it was. Funny thing was that she thought this was perfectly normal behaviour. She has obviously been spending too much time listening at keyholes in the National Assembly for Wales!

Friday, December 28, 2007

Have a Good Weekend Children.

School isn't what it was when I attended Llanfair Caereinion High School. I must admit that it was some time ago, so change is to be expected. But I was a bit surprised to read in my Montgomeryshire County Times today that sixth formers are handed out condoms on a Friday night - ready for the weekend. And some weekend it promised to be in that the pupils were to be given six condoms each, plus lubricants. At least I assume this is what happens, because today's front page is devoted to the decision by the Headmaster of Welshpool High School to cut off their supply - to the consternation of at least some of the parents and the Terrence Higgins Trust. One parent told the newspaper "Personally, I think its disgusting they were not allowed then at 16-years-of-age. It is promoting unsafe sex". Mr Rob John, from the THT said that the free distribution of condoms did not tell children "they have to have sex". He added the observation "If they took condoms and lubricant into a school staff room, would the teachers all have sex". I promise you that I'm not making this up. And to think we used to do things like Latin and Algebra when I was in High School. I like the sound of headmaster, Jim Toal.

Ups and Downs of Politics.

Political life is like that. First they are lifted up onto a pinnacle, only so that their vanity can be ever more crushed by the fall. I'm into the third of Michael Dobbs' Urquart trilogy that I was given for Xmas, so I'm beginning to understand political strategy and was prepared for the bitter blow visited upon me by Iain Dale's Diary today.

There I was in the top six 'Welsh politicians of the year' as voted for by Iain's readers - the only six to register enough votes not to be grouped into 'others'. And I'm not even an elected politician. This has to be a first - and I thought boded rather well for my General Election prospects. There I am, rubbing shoulders with Rhodri Morgan, Ieuan Wyn Jones, Adam Price and Nick Bourne - all heavyweights of the Welsh political scene. It can only be a matter of time For a few seconds I was feeling quite 'puffed up' - but then I noticed who was first and had beaten all five of us. Lembit Opik!

Crushed. How can anyone take this poll seriously now?

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Democracy - a tender flower.

This blog has become too serious of late, and tonight I'd planned to redress the balance. I was going to post about women with hairy legs and my favorite cracker jokes - but then Benazir Bhutto was assassinated. In such circumstances, any attempt at humour would be deeply inappropriate. Its not so much that an elegant and handsome woman has been gunned down by a terrorist. Many other human beings will also have been murdered today, 20 in the same incident. What's shocking is that this is a direct attack on democracy, the form of government that underpins our way of life. Benazir Bhutto and her husband have been accused of corruption in the past, and her two previous periods as Prime Minister of Pakistan were not covered in glory - but it is deeply disturbing that the likely winner of a nuclear power's imminent election should have been killed in the street. This terrible deed will lead to the loss of many other lives - especially if the murder is linked to an internal Pakistani source.

The only other issue in today's newspapers that demands that I post about is the growing divide between 'town' and 'country'. I usually worry about this after going to watch the local hunt setting off. The really worrying aspect of this is that the 'bullying' urban majority don''t realise how intolerant they have become. No better than the fifth form bullies who tried to force me to carry their satchels down the long flight of steps to the school bus when I was in the first form. They can impose their will simply because they are bigger. Alan Cochrane has written a good piece on this issue in today's Telegraph.

Democracy is a very complex creature. It can only blossom (or even survive) if the minority has respect for the decision of the majority. This requires that the majority acts with reason, consideration for and understanding of the minority's position. Power imposed without reason creates contemptuous disrespect and simmering resentment. If this takes hold, democracy breaks down. The victim fights back. My reaction was to smash my right fist into the fifth form bully's face - and I had no further trouble. But I was a strong and fiery 11 year old. Not all of us are temperamentally suited to make this sort of response. Tonight, democracy is under threat in Pakistan, in a way that we have never experienced in Britain. Let's hope that we never reach that position.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A despicable Act

I'd never been to a hunting 'meet' until the Labour Government forced through their despicable ban on hunting with dogs in Spring 2005. I've never been out with hounds and can safely write that I never will. I haven't even carried a gun or a fishing rod for pleasure since I was 20 years old. But I considered it my moral duty to join the perhaps 1000 people who watched over 60 horses ride off with the hounds from the Royal Oak in Welshpool this morning. It was a magnificent sight - and the applause ringing out from supporters on both sides of Broad Street as the hunt galloped off made the hair on the back of my neck tingle. Nothing to do with hunting. Just so wonderful to see so many country people showing their utter contempt for a despicable law. I've been to every Boxing Day 'meet' since the 'Hunting with Dogs Act' was proposed - and I shall carry on going until the Act is repealed.

And I am far from alone. OK, there are plenty of people who oppose hunting with dogs - but across the land there are thousands like me who have experienced a blossoming of enthusiasm for hunting arise from the unscientific prejudice that spawned the Hunting Act. The excellent Charles Clover writes about the resurgence in interest in hunting in today's Telegraph. It seems that women and children are now joining hunts in their droves. The sport is more popular than it has been for decades.

This issue is plastered in irony. The ban on hunting has hugely increased its popularity. The ban has persuaded hunts to become much more open and outgoing, thus becoming an attractive past-time for more people. Where it has had an effect, it has probably led to more cruelty rather than less. And the ban has brought a measure of contempt down upon the law in the minds of many law abiding people. The Hunting Act is one of the most unreasonable ill considered pieces of legislation ever passed by a British Government. It should be repealed.

Xmas Day

St Stephen's Day (as the Irish always call it), and gradually recovering from yesterday's excess. Been down to the Boxing Day meet in Welshpool this morning (separate post) and calling in on my blog this afternoon. But back to yesterday. Started off rather more gently than usual. We went to Church on Xmas morning for the first time ever. Youngest son's fiancee, Adrienne is a good Irish Catholic girl, and she led us down the path (or aisle) which is likely to become a new family tradition. And it was the first chance I've had to sing 'While shepherds watched' this year. Being a shepherd myself, I particularly like this carol.

And then on to another new tradition. Out of the magnificent Berriew Church and into the adjacent Lion Hotel for a glass of punch. I sometimes think it would be so much easier on the family if we all went out for lunch together on Xmas Day. Easier yes - but not as enjoyable. Watched the Thomas Crown Affair in the afternoon - which is as easy watching, intellectually unchallenging and stomach settling as you can get. Later, we took Ffion out for a walk around the garden in the dark - and I dipped into some of my Xmas presents. This involved a start on my new store of nougat and turron (which I cannot resist) and reading one of my new books. Choice was either Joe Calzaghe's autobiography or Michael Dobbs' trilogy of Francis Urquart novels. I really should have read these before. If I'm going to cope with the skulduggery that infects the Westminster snakepit, I'd better start to learn the ropes.

Funniest minute of the day was watching eldest son having a fight with the TV. These new interactive games are incredible. Edward was standing in front of the screen throwing jabs and hooks - which were landing on the face and torso of a character on the TV. Four straight lefts and he'd won by a knockout. Later, the boys were playing tennis and golf against the TV screen. Amazing. Finished the day really into Mr Urquart. Worrying thing is that I don't find him that far fetched. I've seen a bit of this sort of thing already.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Season of joy (with a minor irritation).

I know, I know. Its Xmas Eve and I should be full of nothing but good humour and goodwill towards all. And so I was - until I visited my blog to find a comment from anonymous telling me how much he or she supports the employees of Virgin Atlantic in their campaign for a better pay and conditions.

I've checked that none of my family are visiting this site before tomorrow (as it happens they're all in the next room as I type this). So I'll share with you knowledge of the Xmas gift I've just wrapped up for Mrs D - and you're not going to believe it. I'm giving her tickets to travel. I decided a couple of weeks ago that she needed a break in the sun - so I bought a holiday for us. And you've probably guessed. We are supposed to be flying to Barbados at 12.50 on January 9th - out of Heathrow on Virgin Atlantic Airways. Three days after I paid for the holiday, I heard on BBC News that Virgin Atlantic crews were going on strike on January 9th - and that Heathrow would be particularly affected. Well excuse me. I daresay the crewmen have got a strong case - but just at this red hot moment, I'm not overwhelmed with sympathy for it.

But despite this small blemish on my mood, I wish all those who visit my blog a joyous Xmas - and may all your presents be loved (and unaffected by industrial action!). Happy Christmas.

The value of trunks.

Usually start to think about next summer's garden at this time of year. Used to be that all my Xmas presents were trees and shrubs, which I planted during the holiday, weather permitting. But I've become fussier about what I want to plant over the years and its difficult for present givers to choose for me. Big job has been sawing down a magnificent specimen of Pinus Stobus. Its been a tough decision, but it was blocking the marvellous views of Cornden and Long Mountain from the sitting room window. It was Mrs D's decision, but in the end it had to go.

I walk around planning what to plant and move in the next few months. And I was struck by how beautiful some of the tree trunks look. We have dozens of birches around the garden, including 10 Betula utilis 'Jacquemontii', the best white barked birch of all. They could be made even more stunning by washing them down. My favorite trunks are the Acer grisiums, which are expensive to buy if you want a well grown specimen - but well worth it. The most colourful shrub (which is not a tree only because Mrs D cuts it right back to the main stem every year) is an orange stemmed willow, that I do not know the name of. These need to be chosen to taste from nurseries.

As you would expect, there is not much colour about at the moment, but the yellow 'Pallida' witch hazels are already showing good colour. If the weather is half decent over the next few days, I have already identified at least one fairly mature variegated rhododendron that needs moving. I know that I would be better leaving this until March/April - but these jobs have to be done when there's time.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Two Weddings and a Funeral

This blog records significant achievements, happiness, sadness, successes and failures of Montgomeryshire people. I've been scouring the Sundays for items worthy of record. Following yesterday's tribute to a lost friend, I find reports of two weddings of interest today.

Firstly, Mandrake in the Telegraph reports that my old next door neighbour of many years, Alex Carlile has married Alison Levitt. We were all very shocked when Alex left Montgomeryshire a couple of years ago, and Frances, his wife of 30 years to be with his new woman. We haven't seen Alex since he left. He was Liberal Democrat MP for Montgomeryshire from 1983 - 1997 and has found fame in his retirement through very high profile legal cases, notably defending Paul Burrell, and as Government-appointed reviewer of anti-terrorism laws.

The second wedding also has a loose connection with a Montgomeryshire MP, in that the bride to be was once engaged to the current incumbent. Today, Catherine Evans reports in the Wales on Sunday that Sian Lloyd, the ITV weather girl, is to marry her fiance, Jonathon Ashman as soon as it can be arranged in the New Year. This blog previously reported on the proposal of marriage, which resulted in a dramatic lifting of the clouds over Mt. Kilimanjaro. I'm not surprised that Sian wants to get on with it, in that he is described by Catherine as a 'millionaire lover' and by Sian as a 'soul mate' and 'kind, caring, considerate, sharing and loving'. Since the couple intend to spend as much time as possible in Montgomeryshire, I think we can reasonably look forward to some nice weather over the next few months.

Pot starts to boil.

I've been predicting that the arrangements under the Government of Wales Act to transfer powers from Westminster to Cardiff Bay are likely to lead to what I've called 'turbulence' between the National Assembly and the UK Parliament. Today's report by Tomos Livingstone in the Western Mail suggests that this particular pot is starting to boil in a worrying manner. It was entirely predictable that Assembly Members would be keen to have new powers transferred as quickly as possible - and its equally predictable that MPs would want to scrutinise each proposed transfer of power in detail. Of course there's a certain amount of pointlessness in this scrutiny - because once the power is transferred a future Assembly Government will be able to do whatever it wants without any further involvement from Westminster.

The problem is that the two sides in these discussions have been given different versions of what the Act was going to mean. The view of Welsh MPs is a very long way from that of the Assembly's Presiding Officer, who seems to lose his temper when there are suggestions that the new Act is a 'dogs breakfast' - which it is. Its another example of chickens coming home to roost. My view remains that Assembly Ministers should be as open and informative as possible when they discuss LCOs (Legislative Competence Orders) with MPs. I know there is no requirement in the Act for this - but it would cost them nothing but time and would create trust and goodwill.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Sydney Pritchard CBE 1915 - 2007

Sydney Pritchard was the most committed elected representative that I ever knew. He was active in Local Government and represented Berriew on various Councils for about 60 years. He died yesterday in Welshpool Community Hospital aged 92 years. I called in to see him a few days ago, and it was obvious to me that he was becoming very frail - but his mind was as sharp as ever. I called in yesterday to deliver a Xmas card to Sydney, only to be given the news of his death. My overwhelming feeling was not so much of sadness, because he had lived a full life to a great age, and I had expected it. It was more a feeling that a very good man had gone and that I had been lucky to know him as well as I did.

It was Sydney who instigated my interest in public life. He and his wife, Jane lived on a neighbouring farm, the Bryn, and for many years, I used to call on Sunday evenings to talk about local issues - sometimes for hours on end. Jane would bring us tea and cakes. During the last few years, when his eyesight was deteriorating, she would drive him to meetings. Life became very difficult for Sydney when she died a few years ago. Jane herself knew a great deal about Council affairs. In my early 30s he encouraged me to become involved in local government. Later on, we disagreed about certain matters, when I was the Chairman of Montgomeryshire District Council and he was, in effect, the Leader of Powys County Council. Council officers used to say that discussions between us were rather like a game of verbal chess. I always had the greatest respect for him, as did everyone else who knew him. To disagree with Sydney required a huge amount of preparation and attention to detail. He would celebrate any 'victory' over me with no more than a barely discernible smile, which only I understood. However, we agreed most of the time. He taught me a lot.

Sydney was unfailingly polite to everyone. I never remember hearing him utter a cross word, and it was necessary to know him really well to spot any low opinion he might have had of anyone. He was certainly the inspiration that led me to become involved in public life. He was the best councillor that Powys has seen during the 35 years that I have been aware of local affairs.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Nature's comings and goings.

Early start. Out on the Dolydd Hafren reserve with Iolo Williams soon after daybreak. Iolo is a star - and not just somebody 'good on TV' . He' a genuine star. A countryman to the core, a real expert in the field, and a thoroughly easy going bloke. We didn't see a lot today - a couple of goosanders, some teal, a distant flock of lapwing, a few curlews and yellowhammers. Oh, and we heard water rails. Iola reckons there is a spoonbill on the reserve as well, but not to be seen today. I have seen spoonbills at the Llanelli wetlands centre - but this is the first official sighting in Montgomeryshire. Highlight for me was when one of our number picked up an old bird's nest from the hedge - and with the most cursory of examination, Iolo said it was a Blackcap's nest. I thought he was having us on, but No. It was just that - and he explained how he knew. Mrs D was not able to come today - but I bet she would have been, if it had been summer - and Iolo's much vaunted thighs were on display!

And then it was off to deliver Xmas cards and buy Xmas presents. Went to Welshpool Hospital to deliver a card to a very old friend this afternoon, only to learn that he had died just before I arrived. I will be posting about this very special man tomorrow, when I'm certain that all his family know of his death. It wasn't shocking in that I'd been half expecting it - and he was a great age. But it is a very good man gone.

I feel that I've switched off politics for Xmas - but I intend to blog through the festival. It will probably be more personal stuff - with a strong strand of the countryside. A morning with Iolo has shown me that Ive been neglecting my love for 'rural' Montgomeryshire.

Its No Excuse, Mr Hain.

Prompted by a comment on my blog, I return to the issue of 'donorgate' - and the appropriate response when something like this goes awry. Now, I've been there. Been vilified/crucified/humiliated - and as a consequence of something I knew nothing whatsoever about. My name was dragged through the broadsheets mud (only time my photograph has appeared in the Telegraph). Knowing nothing about the problem was no defence. I took the full hit - and it hurt, big-time. This is what happened.

The Development Board for Rural Wales was a Quango, established in 1977. It doubled up as a New Town Corporation, which involved it building and managing several thousand houses - essentially for 'key workers'. These houses were let from a list of 'key worker' applicants, which was publicly available. When there were no names on this list, houses were let to names on another list, based on 'needs' criteria - but this list was not public (which later became known rather pejoratively as the 'secret list). This system was entirely in order until 1985, when a new Housing Act clause decreed that all such lists should be public. I was never able to discover why the Board's procedures were not changed at the time. I was told that the clause was so uncontentious and unremarked upon, that no-one ever noticed - which a few years later turned out to be a hell of a pity from my perspective.

I was appointed Chair of the Development Board in 1989. Housing was only a peripheral role in our work, and my focus was on transferring the entire stock to a housing authority. Never crossed my mind that there might be something wrong - nor the mind of any other member of my Board, or officer. In 1993, a house was allocated to the Board's Housing Officer. At the time there were no applicants on the 'public' list - and the letting was approved by the appropriate line manager. I still remember my blood running cold when I was told, several months later, that the Ombudsman and later the Auditors had looked at our letting procedures and found the letting improper because it had been from a non-public list.

Now, if I'd sacked the Chief Executive or some other senior officer, I might have escaped criticism - and I would have done just that, if one of them had done something wrong. But they hadn't, and so I didn't. At that time, there was a quango vilification campaign in full swing, and in my heart I knew that some blood would have to be spilled - and that it would probably have to be mine. I thought it was incredibly unfair. But that's life. There was the expected attempt by politicians to portray me in a bad light - which generally failed. The whole episode caused me great pain - and changed my character for a long time. Its probably the only experience that really knocked me back. It was only with the support of others that I recovered. Fortunately, everyone in Wales seemed to accept that I was the victim of circumstance, and there was very little criticism of me personally.

I resigned my position on May 12th, 1994, which is why I always remember the date of John Smith's death. The fact that I knew nothing whatsoever about the issue, and even on reflection, cannot see how I could have been expected to, was no defence. Perhaps now dear readers, you can understand why I am quite so outraged by the response there has been to 'donorgate' - and the "We knew nothing about it" defence. It was one rule for me , and another for Labour Ministers.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Big Plus for Clegg.

I read in today's Telegraph that the new Lib Dem leader, Nick Clegg had never heard of The Fairytale of New York or the Pogues who sang it - or about the BBC's stupid decision to ban the words 'faggots' and 'sluts'. No pathetic attempt to pretend that he was into the Arctic Monkeys or similar. The man has won the respect of this blog.

Keeping You Informed.

Mistakes happen. They are usually no big deal - if you're up front and open about it. If you try to hide things or cover it all in 'spin', there will be problems. There's always some miserable b****r like me or Guido Fawkes who make sure that everybody knows about it.

The Clegg Reshuffle.

I take an interest in Lib Dem politics- and never more so that now. In general, I'm interested in what impact the election of Nick Clegg as leader will have on my party's chances of forming a Government at Westminster after the next election. And I'm also interested in what my own MP in Montgomeryshire is up to - not least because I'll be trying to oust him at the next election. Well, I watched tonight's BBC Wales news at 6.30 and the reshuffle wasn't covered at all! Not much impact there. So I picked it up on the web.

First challenge was what to do with Chris Huhne, who almost pipped him for the leadership. He's got the high profile role as Home Affairs spokesman - but he will have to work hard for space on what has become David Davis territory. I suppose Huhne will be pleased with this. Ed Davey has been given Foreign Affairs and 'twinkletoes' Vince Cable will carry on destroying Gordon Brown's legacy as Chancellor. Two other aspects of this reshuffle that catches my eye is the sort of roving 'European' role which has been given to Charles Kennedy - which should be a good slot from which to go for the Party Presidency when it comes up (He'll be a shoe-in if he wants it). Secondly, the sheer size of the team - up from 23 to 30. A plumed hat for everyone! I was pleased to see that the 'countryside' spokesman, Tim Farrow has been included as a sort of add on to the team.

My MP in Montgomeryshire, Lembit Opik has been moved to 'Housing'. I could be wrong but this looks something of a demotion to me. He was doing 'Business' (which he described as 'a huge promotion and what he really wanted' when Ming last reshuffled) plus 'Northern Ireland'. So he's lost Business, Wales and Northern Ireland - and he's got Housing. I've no doubt that a press release has already gone out describing this as 'a huge promotion and what he really wanted' !! Still, housing is an important subject in Montgomeryshire - even if its been devolved to the Assembly and is not much to do with Westminster. Which it is why it seems such a strange appointment. The Lib Dem's 'Housing' Spokesman represents a constituency where he has little or no say in housing matters. Its a job to know what to make of this.

Under Pressure.

I'm still wondering if I managed to pull it off completely. I think so - but I was a little concerned when my fellow guest, Plaid Cymru AM, Helen Mary Jones said I seemed unusually relaxed on the S4/C programme, CF99 last night. I will own up now though. I'd been out for a celebratory dinner in Cardiff Bay with Mrs D before last night's programme. I've been checking today- but no-one mentioned anything about me being 'flushed' or 'garrulous' or 'tired and emotional'. In fact, I thought it was a rather good programme. After all, Helen Mary is a Montgomeryshire girl. I've always liked her - and I find it very hurtful that she is always so dismissive of the Conservatives.

But back to the reason for my breaking my rule of abstinence before appearing on television. It was a significant birthday. Mrs D and I had been out celebrating the fact that I was alive. December 19th, five years ago was the day I went under the knife at the Shropshire Nuffield to redesign things after removal of a diseased part of my body. Five years is the survival period that is usually interpreted as 'full recovery'.

And back to the programme. We were looking back on 2007 - and in particular the forming of a Coalition Government in the National Assembly. My view is that it will survive until 2011, but with increased fretchedness as the Assembly election approaches. I said that Id been very disappointed when it was formed, hoping that the so-called 'Rainbow Coalition' would have prevailed. I also said that I hoped that there would be another chance for a Tory/Plaid (with or without others) Coalition in 2011. I can see that it depends a bit on who takes over from Rhodri Morgan in 2009. If Carwyn Jones takes over, the red/green team will look stronger - but if Andrew Davies, or Leighton Andrews (who I think of as the dark horse) take over, I see a big opportunity for us. Helen Mary was completely rubbishing the idea that Tories and Plaid can ever do a deal - completely ignoring the fact that the two parties actually did such a deal in May, before the Lib Dems sank it. I hope Vaughan and Bethan will forgive me for taking on board a relaxative drink before appearing on their flagship programme. Promise never to do it again - unless its December 19th again.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

So Clegg it is.

It was a damn close run thing in the end. Just 511 votes in a low turnout of about 40,000 (about 65% of members). There's a fair chance that if the Lib Dem leadership contest had dragged on for another week, Nick Clegg, the runaway favourite at the start of the race, would have been beaten by Chris Huhne, the rank outsider. Not much doubt that Huhne won the campaign, and has earned the right to a top job in Clegg's team. The contest hasn't had much impact in Montgomeryshire. I was at a local Conservative Christmas lunch at 2.37, when I mentioned the result that was being declared at that precise moment - and no-one knew what I was referring to. And no-one knew anything about Clegg and Huhne, except that they had rather an unpleasant row on television one Sunday morning. So there is a big challenge before Nick Clegg to make an impact - and I don't suppose it being Xmas will help either. Not much interest in politics during the festive season.

But I think it is interesting. But I admit that I also enjoy watching the Eurovision Song Contest results coming in! I 've listened to several interviews by leading Lib Dems commenting on the result, and finished up as unenlightened as Peter Allen on 5 Live's Drive. All these people saying what Nick Clegg stands for (usual stuff around the words 'change' and 'new') and I felt not a bit wiser at the end of it. I also did not here a word that I wouldn't have been happy to sign up to myself. Mike German in Wales told us Clegg was new in that he was for fairness, greenness and for helping people to help themselves. It must have come as something of a surprise to Ming Campbell and Vince Cable that these values were new. I was expecting to hear something about swinging new 'green' taxes, greater European integration, and higher taxes for the rich. But No. Nothing to take issue with. Its all left me scratching my head. How can I attack someone who agrees with everything I do. Even Caroline Spelman, our Party Chairman has issued a very nice welcoming message.

No wonder David Cameron has been talking about a 'progressive alliance' between the Lib Dems and the Conservatives. And there is something a bit odd about this. For as long as I can remember, its been the Lib Dems who have been banging on about coalitions, fair votes etc. etc.. But when it comes to the real thing its the Lib Dems who dive under the desk. They did it is Wales last May (and sank the real prospect of a non-Labour coalition) and they are doing it again today, when the opinion polls are showing a strong possibility of them being faced with a share of power. I just hope that Clegg can instill in the Lib Dems a sense of responsibility and grown-upness - and that it spills over Offa's dyke.

Monday, December 17, 2007

So its to be an 'Establishing' Committee.

Regular readers will know that this blog supports full law making powers for the National Assembly of Wales - in those policy areas that have already been devolved. It also supports this happy position being acheived by the straight forward route of a referendum backed change to the Government of Wales Act which legislates for it. It also believes that the transfer of powers by the non-referendum backed means of Legislative Competence Orders (LCOs) will lead to a constitutional bust-up between Westminster and Cardiff Bay which will damage the constructive relationship which I want to see exist between the two ends of the M4.

Today, things may have moved on towards my favoured constitutional settlement. I write 'may' without much conviction. Today, a group of MPs and AMs (plus the very considerable addition of Cynog Dafis) met at Westminster to set out the way that the recently announced National Convention is to be progressed. Again, regular readers will know that I have no real grasp of what this National Convention is being set up to do. I know what its remit is, but I cannot believe that a 'National Convention' is being set up for something so narrow - and its to be chaired by such an eminent personage as Sir Emyr Jones-Parry. Far better to just ask Richard Wyn Jones at Aberystwyth. He would give a better researched answer than any Convention on whether a referendum can be won, if that's all it is - and a lot cheaper.

Well, the meeting is over. According to Betsan's blog, the official communique released at its conclusion read "Its been a very positive meeting, with members of both parties focussed on the work that needs to be done in setting the terms of reference for the National Convention. The establishing committee will now meet on a regular basis over the next threee to four months with the aim of the Convention starting its work in the summer".
So now its to be known as the 'establishing' Committee. First I've heard of this. I suppose this is progress - though I think I sort of took this as given before the meeting started. I often hear these 'constitutional' issues being dismissed as "not what ordinary people care about". But some of us do care about how our nation is governed - and it bothers me big-time that the present arrangements are a 'Dog's Breakfast' just ready to break out into bloody big row at any time. I'd like to see things sorted out.

The 29 inch legs of Wales.

Out for lunch today. It was the annual Xmas lunch of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales, which is based in Welshpool. Nine of us met up at the Royal Oak, which has benefited from some serious investment over the last year or so. And who should join us for a 'small' glass of red but Wales' answer to Terry Wogan, the great Roy Noble. His Radio Wales afternoon programme was 'on the road' today, and being broadcast from Welshpool. Needless to say I nobbled (which seems the appropriate verb) Natalie who was organising things and fixed up a 'chat slot' on the programme for moi. Shameless - even if I say it myself.

Anyway, back to the dining table. I don't know how we got onto the subject, but we began to discuss our respective inside leg measurements. It seems that both Roy and I are 29 inch men. Roy said (with what level of knowledge or authority I know not) that this is the Welsh average. We should have launched 'The 29 Inch Club' there and then. I was thinking about this later on in the day, and wondered whether I was absolutely sure about my own measurement. It could be that it depends on which leg. Now this is not so daft as it sounds. I have spent many years walking across the mountains of Wales, as most sheep farmers do - and it could easily be that differing lengths of leg have 'evolved' to facilitate easier traversing of the slopes.

The short legs have always been an issue for me. Such a low centre of gravity made me impossible to tackle when I played on the wing, and I used to score tries for fun - the only winger in Midlands rugby who actually sidestepped out of the 'gap'. Team mates used to refer to me as the original brick ****house. But I could never do pull-ups without a weight on my feet - though I've never found this to be a serious career hindrance. The only real problem is in church when people sitting behind me think I am about 6 feet 4 inches tall. I'm the only person who isn't any taller when I stand up. In fact I have a friend of 6 feet 4 inches who is the same height as I am from from the gusset up (OK, you come up with a better word - within this blog's bounds of decency).

First question Roy asked me on air was whether I'm still farming. I responded by saying "Yes, and I intend to carry on until all the money's gone". I know its an old one - but the timing seemed quite good. I then went on to do a campaigning broadcast on behalf of the CPRW. Roy Noble is a top man. And it was a splendid lunch - much enjoyed by all.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Rees-Mogg on the Warpath

I don't think I've ever read such a strident piece by one of my favourite political writers, William Rees-Mogg as in today's Mail on Sunday. He begins by writing that 'On Thursday, December 13, a day that may well live in infamy, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom signed away British independence. He had no intention of consulting the British people'.
He went on to describe it as a betrayal, that became a farce. Well, we all saw the farce - when our Prime Minister turned up 4 hours late to sign the new Lisbon Treaty, when everyone else had gone home - hoping that this act of crass rudeness would convey the impression that he, Gordon Brown, was in some way distancing himself from the Treaty which he knows is unpopular with the British people. Blair would never have pulled such a cowardly stunt. He really is a very poor Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Unfortunately, I just can't find the story on the Mail on Sunday online page to provide the link.

The reason that William Rees-Mogg is so angry is that Gordon Brown is breaking a promise made to the British people that they would be offered a referendum on this treaty before its ratification. 'a Government that breaks a promise to the people is even worse than a Government that lies to Parliament', thunders the great man.
Almost no-one now, except the rather ridiculous Minister for Europe, Jim Murphy (who is a superb footballer, clearly with all of his ability in his feet) pretends that the Lisbon Treaty is different from the original Constitutional Treaty, except in a minuscule way. The article quotes Labour's promise to the British people - "It is a good Treaty for Britain and for the New Europe. We will put it to the British people in a referendum, and campaign wholeheartedly for a Yes vote, to keep Britain a leading nation in Europe". He describes the decision not to hold a referendum as shameful. It is difficult to disagree with this assessment.
The question we all have to ask ourselves is whether December 13th was the day that the British people realised that Gordon Brown showed him to be unfit to be Prime Minister. Personally, I think it was.

No drooping at the Roberts' this Xmas

Now why hadn't I thought of it before. It is so damn obvious when you think about it. But it took an article by Catherine Evans in today's Wales on Sunday to bring it to our attention. She reports that a 45 year old hypnotherapist from Wales named Ray Roberts has been feeding Viagra to the family Xmas tree to prevent it 'drooping'. It seems that wife, Maureen was keen to try something a little different to avoid the traditional, emotional disappointment inflicted upon her spirit by the annual Xmas tree 'droop' in the Roberts household.

The subject was preying on Ray's mind when he went down to the pub for a pint, and in desperation, he asked his mates for ideas which might help him put a sparkle back in Maureen's Xmas. One of them advised him to try Viagra and decorate it with tinsel and shiny baubles. It so happened that Ray had some of the diamond shaped little blue tablets to hand, and so he crushed one of them up and sprinkled it over the tree. I suppose he just washed it into the roots. Whatever, three weeks later the tree is standing as proud as the needles on an angry Norwegian porcupine's back. Another little problem solved - and much more joy and contentment will be had by all. A really important scientific breakthrough. Thank you Catherine. Thank you Ray.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

'Curse of Lembit' strikes again.

I knew it was bad news as soon as I heard about it. My first reaction was, Oh No, a new Welsh Star named Rhydian Roberts about to be born by winning the X Factor - and Lembit Opik decides to back him. Why couldn't he have backed someone else? The consequences were inevitable.
We all just knew that the 'Curse of Lembit' would strike again. First there was total support for Charles Kennedy (he went two days later) - then for Mark Oaten (which lasted one day) - and then for Simon Hughes ( who's chances of winning went after two days). And every time, it was the Montgomeryshire MP who was there on the shoulder, and in the camara shots. There were no political endorsements then until he gave his full backing to Ming Campbell, which cooked Ming's goose almost immediately. I really am wondering whether Nick Clegg can possibly win the Lib Dem leadership on Tuesday, with Lembit Opik backing him. Clegg was in an almost unassailable position before he received this most unwelcome of endorsement - and now its reported to be a tight squeeze. Inevitably, Rhydian went down to defeat at the hands of Leon Jackson tonight. Yet again the'Curse' has struck.

Oh for a blank page.

I'm not surprised Rosa Moncton was upset. I felt a bit outraged myself - reading private letters written by Princess Diana on the front page of today's Telegraph - and everywhere else. Have we really become so voyeuristic as a nation that we want to pry into private love letters. And for what purpose - beyond selling newspapers, of course? Supposedly, to prove that Princess Diana was 'in love' with Dodi Fayad - which in turn would indicate that Prince Phillip might have arranged the fatal car crash in the Paris underground which led to the death of the Princess. I just felt sick looking at . I saw the 'Darling Dodi' at the top and averted my eyes from the rest. Perhaps for the first time, I would have preferred the Telegraph to have had a completely blank front page.

Buying a Talking Parrot

A man walked into a pet shop in Cardiff with £1,000 to spend, intent on buying a talking parrot. He spotted one that he liked - but was told it cost £2,000 because it was fully bilingual. He couldn't afford that. So he spotted another one he liked - but was told it cost £3000 because it was trilingual.

"OK", he said, "I'll take that big scruffy one by the door that looks as if it was just dragged in off the street. Nobody could possibly want that thing".

"Sorry Sir, but that will cost you £4,000.

"Why. Does it speak four languages?"

"No. But it does drone on for hours on end, and no-one can make any sense of what it says - and the other two call it First Minister."

Friday, December 14, 2007

Reflecting on life.

Pig of a cold and not been having enough sleep because of an annoying tickle. Been feeling miserable and sooooo tired. But had to be down to Cardiff today for the second meeting of the Wales Advisory Board of the European Care Group. I chair this Board and didn't want to cry off. I can see the area of how we look after elderly, vulnerable, difficult to handle and mentally ill people becoming an increasingly important interest for me. The European Care Group is the sixth biggest provider in the sector in the UK, and is growing rapidly.

After the meeting went up to the Rhondda Valley where ECG have two large homes. Went into the adjoining 'secure unit' on the same site by mistake. We walked in easily enough but couldn't get out without asking reception to open the door!! I was deeply impressed in a 'moved' sort of way when I was taken on a tour of the LD (Learning Disability) units. The dedication needed and shown by the staff is something to behold. And I don't think I'd fully grasped the sheer cost of this provision before today. It can be up to £500 per person per day. I came home tonight and my 10 week old granddaughter, Ffion was there - and I've been doing some bathing, feeding and cuddling up. I couldn't stop thinking how lucky I am - and I still can't as I blog. There are people who live such a limited life because of their disability - and caring for them must be such an incredibly testing and stressful job. I've still got a 'tickle' and I'm not going to sleep well again tonight. But I do not feel hard done by at all.

Another 'donation' problem.

Been searching the BBC site for the news of Mark Hooper's resignation. Not a trace of it anywhere - and nothing on the 10.25 news bulletin on BBC Wales tonight either. I wonder why. I heard it reported on ITV Wales earlier on, and thought it a serious story. Surely it must be somewhere on the Beeb. Iain Dale reports that the story is in the South Wales Echo as well. If anyone knows why there seems to be a blackout on this story, please tell me. Perhaps the Lib Dems just don't count enough any more.

Mark Harper was the Liberal Democrat candidate in the Vale of Glamorgan constituency and is reported to have informed his party that he had received a £2000 donation in October, 2006, which should have been declared. He says that the Lib Dems refused to declare it because it "could have political consequences for the party and may potentially be seen as a disciplinary offence." Mr Hooper has resigned from the Liberal Democrats so that he could report this matter to the Electoral Commission. He is quoted as saying that he has asked the party to register this donation on several occasions. It wouldn't be so bad, but its the Lib Dems who make most fuss about this sort of thing.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Dragons' Eye tomorrow

Edna Mopbucket is not good in a crisis - especially when she is still recovering from listening to Peter Hain at the ITV Awards last night. I've posted before about her obsession with celebrity - and she has had this thing about Peter Hain since she saw some film of him with long hair when he was in the Young Liberals. She said his speech was the worst that she has ever heard. She happened to be tidying up behind Helen Mary's table when he made that appalling crack about Laura Anne Jones being the 'AM to watch'. She almost took a smack in the mouth in the backwash.

Anyway she rang me in a panic. She was cleaning outside the Dragon's Eye studio and heard Rhun say something about tomorrow night's programme. Dragon's Eye are funny about leaks and she's afraid of what might happen. That Carl Roberts fellow is built like a 'heavy'. All she would say is that I should not miss the programme and that it was to do with my chances of election in Montgomeryshire. I would say more, but Edna rang off, telling me that she would not be contactable until after then programme has been broadcast.

Dean of Berriew.

Mrs D and I have been down to St Mary's Church in Welshpool tonight for the seventeenth Carol Service arranged by Welshpool Fire Service. The music was provided by Porth-y-Waen Silver Band. We went to the Westwood for supper afterwards - which meant that we exited via the main gate. Last time we did this was on 26th July 1969 - our wedding day. Not easy to be romantic as we recalled the last time we walked down the steps. No problem tonight but 37 years ago, she tripped up as she was entering the back of the wedding car and fell flat onto her back. Better not repeat what I said. The Westwood is pretty good.

Last carol up tonight was 'God rest ye merry gentlemen'. I was pleased that the carol's name had not been altered.. A few years ago the Dean of Llandaff would not allow these words to be sung. He insisted that the words be changed to 'God rest ye merry people'. This bit of nonsense became a big story and 5 Live phoned me at home at 11.30 on Xmas Eve to debate the issue. I wasn't at my best because I had partaken of an unspecified number of tinctures by then. Actually, the 5 Live researcher hadn't done his homework because for some bizarre reason I was introduced as the Dean of Berriew. I recall it not being easy for me because I could hear the family howling in the next room. I didn't have the heart to correct things - so there are possibly several people across the nation who still think that I am a dean in my spare time. Anyway, well done Welshpool Fire Station. I will send them a Xmas card tomorrow. Haven't decided if I will describe myself as a dean or not.


I'm becoming increasingly concerned about all this talk of Britishness. Gordon Brown was at it again today in the Telegraph, even if the issues were secondary. I rather agree with Lord Kenneth Baker's idea of a National Museum of British History - even if I'm not so sure about the Institute of Britishness that the Prime Minister is talking about. What I'm more bothered about is where all this discussion leads and what impact it will have on the devolution debate/process.

During the run up to the 1997 referendum, I was opposed to the devolution on offer at the time. I arranged several public meetings around Montgomeryshire to generate discussion and interest. The main reason for my opposition was that we had no idea where it would end - Alan William's 'magical mystery tour' arguement. I thought of it as a process rather than an event before Ron Davies coined the phrase. I said at the time that if we were to have an Assembly, it should be established on the same basis as Scotland. What was proposed would be constitutionally unstable. Regular readers of this blog will know that I still believe that to be the case. I also believe it to be inevitable - unless there is some cataclysmic event of course.

So what is all this 'Britishness' stuff about. The trouble is once you start asking a question, you lose control of the answer. And that's where we are now. I don't think many people ever questioned their Britishness. In Wales only about 15 % of people have wanted 'Independence' from the 'Union' for decades. If asked my nationality, I would always have said Welsh, but I'm as British as the next man. For me, being one has never ruled out being the other. But this debate is leading people to believing they have to make a choice. This is dangerous.

Already, I am hearing voices saying that the only way to save the Union is to abolish the Assembly. Well, I'm a 'unionist' and a 'devolutionist' in the sense that I accept devolution as a fact of life. I watch as the 'separatists' in Scotland use the Barnett Formula (which is skewed in their favour) to promote 'separatism' in England. Labour are playing politics with this issue in a cavalier way. Labour are demonising as a threat to the 'Union', David Cameron's entirely sensible consideration of what needs to change in England - simply because it threatens the built in advantage that the unanswered West Lothian Question bestows upon it. The English democratic deficit has to be addressed. And it needs to be done in a calm, reasoned and logical way. I'm not at all sure that this artificial, hyped up, supposed crisis of Britishness in the right climate for such a debate.

The Root Problem

The 13th root of a number is a figure that must be multiplied 13 times by itself to reach the original. For example, the 13th root of one is one, the 13th root of 8,192 is two, and of 96,889,010,407 is seven. the situation for a 200 digit number always begins with a two, whereas that for a 100 digit number always begins with a four. The 13th root of a number will usually have approximately one thirteen the number of digits of the original. So the 13th root of a 100 digit number has eight digits and that of a 200 digit number has 19 digits. There are more than 3.9 trillion possible solutions for the 13th root of a 200 digit number.

The above is taken from today's Telegraph. Yesterday Alexis Lemaire broke the world speed record for calculating the 13th root of a 200 digit number generated at random. He didn't use a calculator and finished the job in 70.2 seconds. Mr Lemaire is working on an artificial intelligence PhD at the University of Reims. His plan is to download the way his brain works to a computer programme. He calls this mind uploading. At last there may be someone who could master the formula by which National Assembly money is distributed to local authorities in Wales.

Battle of the Trousers

I see another story in today's Daily Mail about my opponent at the next General Election, the Lib Dem MP, Lembit Opik. I know its not sensible practise to give publicity to one's opponent, but there was one line that caught my eye in particular - and that was the reference to his wearing high-waisted trousers. What's so interesting about this you might ask. Well, I have some personal experience of making tough decisions on this important issue.

Some 5 years ago, my internal drainage system was redesigned - incidental to the removal of a colorectal tumour. I acquired a stoma - bang on my waistline. I spent an experimental period alternating between hipsters and very high-waisted trousers, held up by bracers. I wore the high waisters for a while, mainly because I lost so much weight that my hipsters wouldn't stay up. As the pounds returned over the next year, I reverted to low waisters - even if there is a danger of looking a bit like Coco the Clown for someone with legs as short as mine.

Anyway, Montgomeryshire voters will have a genuine choice at the next election. They can either plump for a Lib Dem who wears high-waisted trousers - or a Tory who doesn't. I don't suppose many other constituencies in the UK will be offered a that choice.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The 'Dark Side' of Mick Bates.

I've decided to forgive Edna Mopbucket, the Assembly cleaner and overlook her obsession with 'celebrity'. Lucky I called her, because she gave me another interesting little tit-bit. I couldn't believe it at first. But I checked it out. Must admit I suspect she had gone to this meeting hoping to bump into the 'chip paper autographer' only to find that his 'strictly come dancing' partner, Mick Bates was the speaker. Even though it was a meeting about affordable housing, for some utterly bizarre reason Mick decided to tell the assembled guests how he used to cope with unruly pupils when he had been a teacher. Apparently he had used his 'dark side' for motivation.

Edna told me that Mick Bates told his audience that he imagined going to school with a gun and shooting all of the children. I'm not kidding. This was the 'dark side' coming out. As I understand it (and I'm not sure Edna understood the psychology here) Mick then had a base point against which to measure his approach to control and discipline. I don't think there were many psychiatrists in the audience because Edna says that people were looking mystified by his train of thought. Of course, she is easily impressed and disparagingly drooled that Mick was speaking on so high a plane that no-one else could understand. I told her she should be grateful Mick Had retired from teaching. I wonder how he prepares for an Assembly debate. I hadn't realised what mortal danger Assembly Members are in. Have to admit that I made up the bit about 'strictly come dancing' partners!

Sorry - but I can't get the hand of linking to previous posts. Must have another word with Sally.

Service before Self

Been speaking at Newtown Rotary Xmas Dinner tonight. Best laugh I got was when I said Rotarians and politicians had a lot in common - in that the Rotary motto is 'Service before self'. Always been very impressed with Rotary. Since Paul P Harris asked three of his business friends to come around for a chat on 23 Feb 1907, the movement has grown massively. Harris was brought up in a Vermont village before moving to Chicago and wanted to replicate in the city the sense of community that he had grown up with. They arranged to carry on meeting, rotating the meetings around their various premises - which is how the name 'Rotary' was born. Today, there are 1,210,000 members in approaching 200 countries. No projects are too small - or too big. I referred to the 200,000 million US dollars partnership between Rotary and Bill Gates to eradicate polio, which is still rife in Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

I took questions. First up was a question about what I would do to return Welsh rugby to its glory days. I responded by saying that the WRU was paying Warren Gatland several million pounds to work it out - and I was being expected to come up with the answer for nothing! I was then asked if I thought the 'Special One' would save English football. Rather presciently, I said that I didn't think Jose wanted the job - and was only trying to draw out a Spanish club like Real Madrid or Barcelona. As driving home I heard that the 'Special One' had said No. What's the betting there will be a Spanish club in for him before the end of the year. I also said that my 'special one' was in the pram that I was pushing around in the Newtown Santa Run yesterday. You might think this a bit uncharacteristically 'soppy' but several Rotarians had been acting as stewards and thought that I'd been pushing an empty pram around as a stunt. I was shocked by the cynicism. Just goes to show how low politicians have sunk in the public esteem.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Congratulations to Joe as well.

Full of congratulations today - but I cannot allow the naming of Joe Calzhage as BBC Sports Personality of the Year to pass without comment. This year he was the only winner. His victory over Mikkel Kessler was as stunning as his demolition of Jeff Lacey last year. Joe whinged a bit when he didn't win in 2006, when the title should have gone to Nicole Cooke. But this year there was no contest. I must admit that I thought the title would go to Lewis Hamilton - but then motor racing is an ITV sport. Justice was done and fulsome congratulations are in order.

Ffionski's Debut

Knackered again today - but in a nice way. Just like I used to feel after a hard game of rugby, a few hours heavy digging or running a half marathon. (I felt terrible after the one marathon I ran). This morning I took part in the Newtown Santa Run. And so did No 1 son, Edward and little Ffion. At 9 weeks old, I think she is the youngest ever competitor to complete the 4 mile course.

The run is something of a family affair for us - and if Dr Christopher had commented about the four generations yesterday, we would have roped Norm, Ffion's great gran who watched the race into the photograph.

Ffion made her TV debut today. I did an interview (my first silent movie) and the cameraman stuck his lens inside the pram. You won't see it on BBC Wales because it was a crew from Russian TV. Tonight, we've been calling her Ffionski Davieshenkovo. We finished the course in a respectable 45 minutes.

Congratulations to Sian

I think of her as a Montgomeryshire girl, even though I believe she was from Maesteg. And I like to see Montgomeryshire people be happy and fulfilled. So I was pleased to read that Sian Lloyd, ITV's weathergirl is engaged to be married, and very much in love by the sounds of things. These are her quotes from today's Mail on Sunday.

"I feel like the luckiest person alive. We were in Kenya, in the Amboseli National Park, and we went for a drive to see Mt. Kilimanjaro. We went for a walk up the hill, and Jonathon just held me very tightly and said "will you marry me". As he said it, the cloud lifted from Mount Kilimanjaro. It was beautiful. I just burst into tears. It was so moving. I just couldn't help it"

I can't remember what Mrs D and I said to each other, but I don't think it was anything like as romantic as that. However, its a pity that Jonathon Ashman didn't make his proposal in Wales. The weather's been a pig over the last few days that I could have done with the clouds lifting over Montgomeryshire. This blog wishes Sian and Jonathon many decades of wedded bliss. There have been rumours that they are thinking of settling down in Montgomeryshire. Everything should be OK this time, because Sian also told the MoS that she had learned loads from a previous relationship - mainly that she would never make that sort of mistake again. She added for good measure that she had experienced 'a lucky escape' when this previous relationship broke up - and that things would be better this time because 'Jonathon is an adult!' Wow. She's not a Montgomeryshire girl to be crossed.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Ready for Xmas

Cute or what!! This is for Pat, Verity, Tim Adrienne and Valley's Mam.

Row with Edna

Had a blazing row with Assembly cleaner, Edna Mopbucket this afternoon. She's always had this thing about 'celebrities'. I could never see what she saw in Michael Barrymore myself - but I accepted it. Anyway, today she went too far when she started talking about her 'lust' for Lib Dem MP, Lembit Opik. I tried to say that he was already taken, but she'd have none of it. Edna does a day a week cleaning down at Westminster, and mentioned that she's spending every spare minute going up and down in the lift, dressed like a pop star, with some chip paper in her hand, hoping to meet him. Reminds me of when I was young and single. I used to find out where the unmarried Bobbie Roberts was going out for a drink - so that I could coincidentally call by the same place. "Oh, fancy meeting you here!"

Now the reason behind Edna's bizarre behaviour is an incident she heard about from a reliable source in the House of Commons. I only heard about it yesterday at the Cameron do in Cardiff. Apparently, the Lib Dem MP for Montgomeryshire was recently sharing a lift with a young woman who was eating a packet of chips. He took out his pen, smiled in a friendly sort of way, scribbled his name on the chip paper and said something like "That should add some value to it for you". I told Edna that I thought it was one of the most insufferably arrogant acts I'd ever heard of - but she wouldn't have it. She is so blinded by 'celebrity' that she thought it "was a nice gesture". I told her that if she was going to carry on like this, she might as well pack up going to night school now - because with judgement like that she will be unemployable. I will certainly have to consider ending all the publicity I've been giving her.

Meeting the 'Party Faithful' again.

Eight hours on the road yesterday, taking in Cardiff and Newport, Pembs. In Cardiff for a party fundraiser in Salt, a bar in the Bay - chief guest was David Cameron. Great do with 300 present and about one third under 25. The sniff of power is bringing them out like butterflies in Buddlia season. First big Tory do I've been to since losing my AM slot. Really enjoyed it. Quite a few people commented on the Martin Shipton article that appeared in Thursday's Western Mail. Three guests clearly didn't agree, but they want the Assembly abolished (and probably India back as well). In fact, I was surprised by how much enthusiastic support I did have. I wish all these people would say as much to our three MPs. I'm not sure that the Party leadership approves of me being so forceful in my support for giving law making powers to the Assembly - but Nick Bourne offered to buy me lunch in the New Year. I'll take him up on that. I've not always seen 100% eye to eye with Nick, but I'm very keen that he should stay as Leader of the Assembly Group for the next two or three years at least. I very much agree with the direction Nick is taking the Group.

And then on to the excellent Trewern Arms at Nevern in Pembrokeshire to speak to North Pembrokeshire Conservatives. Probably around 70 there, and a very jovial crowd. I started off my speech by putting the blame for the streak in my character that has led me into so much controversy down to the Chairman for the evening. I discovered that John Davies was the PE teacher at Llanfair Caereinion High School for the first two years that I was there in the 1970s. John is well into his 70s now, and as irascible as ever. He must have been a very wild man in his youth. I do remember him introducing me to rugby, which played a big part in my life as a young man. I owe him. The evening ended with a raffle and the main prize was a 4foot high Teddy Bear, which was then auctioned for Association funds. I trust this donation will be properly declared. We also had a teddy bear naming competition. Mohammed came second. Winning name was Glyn - and I took no offence at all. I did put in a bid myself. I thought Ffion might like it when she's a bit older, but without my AM's salary I couldn't afford to stay in the bidding!!

I used the speech to launch my 'crusade' to persuade my party of the case for Assembly law making powers. Presceli Pembs is a part of Wales that might be considered to be a challenge. I'm not sure that anyone in the room disagreed with me - not openly anyway. And there were plenty of heads nodding, including local Assembly Member, Paul Davies. The boy will go far in his political career if he carries on nodding his head when I'm speaking! Home by 1.00, knackered and too tired to blog. So went to bed and was stung twice by a wasp which had snuggled in with Mrs D in my absence. Only blemish on a good 'political' day.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Dragon's Eye

I'm looking forwards to Dragon's Eye tonight. I've seen all the trailers about the problems for residential care homes that are being caused by a cruel change in immigration rules. The consequences of last August's change, which insists that anyone working in a care home must be a 'senior' worker and be paid over £7 per hour are morally indefensible. Local authorities do not pay this much and it is simply uneconomic for any private sector care home to do so - because local authority fees are not high enough to cover this level of wage. It simply means that hundreds of Filipino workers, who are in Wales on five year work permits, are effectively being deported.

Now I hope Dragon's Eye doesn't try to claim this as some sort of exclusive story - because its nothing of the sort. This blog highlighted the issue on 21st November in some detail under the heading 'Be tough but also be Fair'. ( You'll have to scroll down because I don't know how to select a single post!) The reason that I know about this issue is that I'm Chair of the Welsh Advisory Board of the European Care Group, the company which has been interviewed for Dragon's Eye tonight. I have to admit that I had no idea this issue was being covered until I saw the six-o-clock news. It is a very important issue and its a real shame it wasn't picked up three weeks ago.

UPDATE; All the anger and sadness I felt when I posted on November 21st returned tonight, and with a vengeance, as I watched the interviews on Dragon's Eye. I did think that Keith Best was very good, and poured scorn on the shameful behaviour of the current Labour Government - just as I thought Chris Ruane was unreasonable to expect the care home sector to run its operations at a loss.

Its Party £ime

Senedd cleaner, Edna Mopbucket's been on the phone again. This time she's complaining about not being paid her dues. She tells me that there have been more celebrations going on in the offices of the National Assembly than usual this Xmas. Last week, she happened to be passing a room where a cross party group were discussing big increases in AMs salaries - probably backdated to the Assembly Election last May. Ms Mopbucket couldn't pick up everything, (despite having her ear up against the door). The hearing aid doesn't work so well when all these expensive new blackberries are switched on. And there was too much laughing and cheering and popping of 'bubbly' bottles. But she did hear someone shout "A toast to the LCO - more powers means more money". Biggest laugh was when somebody said "It 'Hain Money' ". Someone else proposed '£comoney'. In the end they went for 'Legislative Competence Order Fiscal Adjustment' (LCOFA) - because it had a more appropriate 'tone' about it.

Ms Mopbucket only rang me for a good whinge. Why should she have all this extra work clearing up the empty Dom Perignon bottles, Nobby's Nuts packets, and Ferraro Rochet boxes - when she doesn't have any extra money at all. Bitterly she moaned, "More powers means more money for the favoured few - and sweet FA (financial adjustment that is) for Ms Mopbucket". If she carries on like this, she might get a job as a Government Spad.

Lawman Davies on Conversion Crusade.

That's the headline above the article that Martin Shipton wrote for today's Western Mail following our interview in the Sennedd yesterday. Its a fair reflection of my opinion - (though we should note that the only person who has ever tipped me for the Lords is the soon to be ennobled Lord Wigley). And that's only revenge for the sort of line I've just written! I'm speaking to a Conservative audience in Presceli Pembs. tomorrow night where I will develop this argument further. I'll report on how I get on.

Because I was a supporter of the 'No' campaign in the 1990s, I'm often accused of 'changing my mind' about devolution. I simply refuse to accept this. At about 4.30 in th maoning of the 19th September, 1997 the reality changed. Wales had taken the momentous decision to establish a National Assembly. The ball-game was dramatically changed. Seemed to me that any pragmatic politician had to change as well. The toothless creature which began life in 1999, in my opinion was defective - and worse, was going to be hugely expensive and destroy political 'accountability' in Wales. Very few people now understand where responsibility lies. This new creature either had to be abolished, or given full responsibility over the areas of policy that had already been devolved - and since I do not believe that it will ever be abolished (unless there is some real catastrophe) the only logical way forward is a law making Assembly. Call me Mr Spock if you like, but the logic is unanswerable. Opponents just do not want to engage in the debate. The logic is too overwhelming.

Inevitably, a second Government of Wales Act had to be passed, and took effect last May. Unfortunately, Labour MPs were so keen to 'stuff the Tories' through fiddling the electoral system, that they never trook the trouble to properly understood what the Act actually meant. They still don't realise what it means. In effect, it will deliver law making powers to the National Assembly, without recourse to any referendum (which is totally contrary to Conservative policy). I been posting about the almighty row that is coming up as MPs find out what they've signed up to. No wonder, there's a ermine clad smiling tiger called DEL boy licking his lips in the hills of Meirionydd.

I do not want to see this row between MPs and AMs over the constitutional arrangements for Welsh government. I suggested to Martin, two steps which could be taken to avoid it. Firstly, there will have to be a Committee established at the House of Commons, to deal specifically with the individual power transfers (LCOs). The Assembly have already proposed 9 LCOs, while only one has received any discussion by MPs. At present, this responsibility for 'scrutiny' rests with the Welsh Affairs Committee - and could continue to do so, as long as this Committee didn't do anything else, and all its members turned up to every meeting. Or it could be a new Committee - which could work jointly with the House of Lords Committee which is dealing with LCOs.
And the second step should assume that Assembly Ministers, when presenting the LCOs to the House of Commons should give as much general detail about what the power would be used for as possible. I accept that there isn't any logic in this, because the power is transferred for ever - but it would help reassure MPs, who are understandably concerned about what is going on. When you are taking something from MPs, which they do not want you to have, there is no point in rubbing their noses in it!

I want the Conservative Party to accept the logic and the inevitability of where we are (its might not be where we'd like it to be) and adopt a law making Assembly as soon as possible. I know its a personal risk to argue so openly and strongly for this, but I really believe it. I want us to form part of the Government of Wales after the 2011 election - and lead it. this policy would deliver that. What on earth is the point of being involved in politics unless you want to form part of the Government and make a difference.

"Do you know who I am".

While in Cardiff yesterday, a press release fell into my possession. In concerns the recent 'frisking' of Lib Dem AM, Eleanor Burnham at Cardiff Airport, an indignity to which the attractive flamboyant brunette bitterly objected. I wasn't going to make any reference to the author of this document. Far be it from me to spread discord in the Lib Dem camp. Assembly cleaner, Edna Mopbucket, has already reported to me that she's heard the most frightful rows coming out of Lib Dem group. Apparently, the meetings usually end with two AMs in floods of tears, Two AMs arguing over Mike German's retirement date, Mike himself playing 'I,m The Leader, Ha, Ha, Ha' on the piano, and one singing Bob Dylan songs to himself in the corner. But I see that the Western Mail has speculated on which of this happy little group is the author. I thought you might like to read it.


AM says she was left feeling 'grubby' after transport staff failed to show sufficient deference.

A Welsh politician has told how 'draconian' staff throughout the Welsh transport system have left her feeling 'grubby' after failing to bow and scrape to her during journeys between North Wales and the Assembly building in Cardiff.

North Wales AM, Eleanor Burnham, has demanded that staff on Arriva Trains and at Cardiff Wales Airport should be retrained so that they know how to deal with senior politicians such as herself.

She has produced a catalogue of incidents throughout the seven years she has been an Assembly Member to back up her claim. These include: staff refusing to clear railway carriages so that she might have an uninterrupted journey; A failure to earmark a a toilet on trains for her personal use during journeys; not diverting buses so as to drop her outside the front door of her Wrexham home when train connections are cancelled; making her carry her own bags; subjecting her to security checks just because she's carrying a bag marked 'Bomb'; and refusing to provide a VIP waitress service on trains when she is travelling.

"Its bad enough that I have to travel to Cardiff every week for meetings" said Mrs Burnham. "The £46,000 that I am paid does not even go halfway to compensate me for having to endure these journeys. I am a very busy person and very very important. It is only right that staff on our transport system recognise the fact and give me the special treatment that I require".

"It is time that the Transport Minister got a grip. He should tell train companies, airlines and airports to give AMs the priority that our position requires".

Asked to comment on Mrs Burnham's allegations, A British transport official said "Eleanor Who?"

Sorry for Silence

Must apologise to readers. I've been away since Monday lunchtime. London and Cardiff - and the NFU AGM tonight. Long interview with Martin Shipton for the Western Mail this afternoon about the approaching turbulence between Westminster and the National Assembly - and how I think it can be lessened. Not removed completely, because the Government of Wales Act is not what MPs want - and do not realise they voted for. Too late and too knackered to blog now. Quck shower and off to join Mrs D. Blogging frenzy tomorrow.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Surely not my good mate, Huw as well.

I really like Huw Roberts - even if I could never describe him as a political soulmate. If there was one man with close links to the heart of the Labour Party in Wales that I'd trust to be straight, it would be Huw. I knew that he had been working with Peter Hain in his campaign to be Deputy Leader of the Labour Party. Nothing wrong with that. Somebody had to do it. But I would never have expected Huw to be fingered by Guido Fawkes as being involved in 'Donargate'. But that is what Guido has just done. Mr Fawkes has such an impressive record on this that I'd expect the main media to be after this like a pig after a truffle. It might be that there is a Welsh angle on this now. I really hope that this is a wild Guido goose chase. Oh, where's it all going to end.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

'Donorgate' Getting Worse

I just cannot believe the way Labour are responding to the 'scandal' involving their politicians taking money from donors in an illegal way. The one thing Labour should not have done is try to 'spin' their way out of it. The man caught in bed with his best friend's wife, has only one course open to him - apologise profusely, show remorse and beg forgiveness. Inventing some spurious reasons will only make matters worse. But this is precisely what Labour have been doing. Well, let them carry on - because they are destroying their party. Already, it looks possible that Labour has gone into a decline which will result in the loss of the next election. If the 'spinning' carries on, this scandal has the potential to force an early election - which would necessitate the removal of Gordon Brown as Prime Minister for Labour to have any chance. What a bunch of 'Wallys' - or perhaps we should now say 'Pauls'.

The main 'spin' tactic has been to argue that all political parties are 'in this together'. Surprisingly, in Wales the leader of this strategy seems to be maverick MP, Paul Flynn. First time I've seen Paul playing the role of loyalist lackey. Its damaged him. On the Politics Show today, Paul's tactics defeated Adrian Masters by diverting the debate into discussion about Plaid Cymru. Same thing happened on Taro Post last week. Luckily, the public is not fooled and the tactic just looks devious (which it is) and damages Labour even more.

The next 'spin' tactic has been to blame it all on Blair. This backfired as well, and the usually reasonable Mathew d'Ancona really launched in today. And the latest 'spin' tactic is to divert attention by giving the impression that its something to do with taxpayers funding for political parties. I really hope that no-one falls for this one, because the basis of it is truly despicable - "unless we are given taxpayers money, we will be forced to get the money illegally". This is the drug addict's defence.

Labour are in a lose/lose position. Wendy Alexander, Harriet Harmon and Jon Mendolsson should all resign - but they cannot because the Prime Minister is afraid of 'the domino effect'. And if they stay, the stench of 'Donorgate' will hang around for months. Everyone in politics are now telling me that the General Election will be put off until 2010. I've never thought so - and still don't. I think it would be wise to call a meeting of my campaign team asap.

Enjoyable Reading

I've just followed a link from Iain Dale's Diary to this piece by Mathew Parris in the Times. I think its a bit over the top but its a very enjoyable read for anyone with Conservative sympathies.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Common Sense rules.

This blog has always held 'The Hunting with Dogs Act' to be wrong in principle and unworkable in practise. Yesterday, another nail was hammered into the coffin of this most ridiculous of prejudiced piece of legislation.

Last August, to loud applause from the Act's supporters and apologists, Mr Tony Wright of the Exmoor Foxhounds was fined £500 after a private prosecution by the League Against Cruel Sports. Mr Wright was the first to be successfully prosecuted under this Act. Oh, how they celebrated. The Act which I and others believed to be unenforceable had turned out to be enforceable after all. And the media gave this event hundreds of column inches. Hunting with dogs was all over.

Well, yesterday Judge Graham Cottle overturned Mr Wright's conviction, saying that the law was 'far from simple to interpret or apply'. This item of news received a miserable three inches in the Inbrief column. I don't think the BBC covered it at all.

UPDATE (Sun) - I see that today's Sunday Telegraph has given a decent spash to the story. Reporting a story that is favourable to the hunting cause remains too politically incorrect for the Beeb though.


Matt said in today's Telegraph;

One teddy bear to another "You think you've got problems. My name's Harriet Harman"

And Stephen Harrison said on the letters page;

"So Tony Blair finally found a way to make Tony Blair popular. Replace him with Gordon Brown."

Comment on my blog said;

It looks as if Gordon Brown could become a 'conviction' politician.

Friday, November 30, 2007

The Ladies of Penybontfawr

Penybontfawr is a quiet little 'Welsh' village in the heart of Montgomeryshire. But next week, I expect Penybontfawr to be anything but quiet. It will invaded by tourists and single men looking for a house to buy. Amateur ornithologists will be strolling casually around the village looking for pippits and larks, binoculars at the ready. I wouldn't be surprised to see Council workmen turning up to repair Penybontfawr's potholes. And the reason for this invasion? The ladies of the village have cast off their kit for a charity calender. And all I can say is if the other 11 are anything like as 'tasteful' as Kim whose photograph (completely starkers) appears on page 14 of today's Montgomeryshire County Times, they won't be disappointed. It really should have been on page 3.

Last year, I took a busful of the ladies of Penybontfawr on a guided tour of our garden at Cil Farm - at least those who are members of the local Merched y Wawr. I had no idea what a raunchy lot they were. There were about 40 of them. I feel quite stressed thinking about it. If I'd known what they had in mind, I would have hired a photographer so that some appropriate, tasteful shots could have been taken amongst our borders. An opportunity missed.

But this blog wants to congratulate the Penybontfawr Ladies on their willingness. Kim Cleminson, the organising Committee Chairman, told the newspaper that the ladies responded to the loss of a friend's mother to cancer by deciding to raise money for Marie Curie Cancer Care. She added that the calender is made up of "tasteful nude photos" of brave volunteers from local businesses and sports clubs. After all, I did notice when I looked at the photograph again that Kim was wearing her watch. If this one photograph is anything to go by, the calender is cheap at its price of £8. I hope the ladies make a lot of money for a great cause. But the image of Penybontfawr will never be the same again.

Speaking with two tongues.

I try to restrain partisanship on this blog. But sometimes it becomes irresistible. And all I have to do is post extracts of a letter that appeared in today's edition of the Montgomeryshire County Times. The writer was my local Conservative colleague, Dan Munford, who is a long standing opponent of despoiling the uplands of Rural Wales with wind turbines. It reads as follows;

Blame Mick for future wind farm landscape

Tony Benn once said that to have a functioning democracy, you need two things. You need to know who to blame, and you need to know how to get rid of them. Of course, elected politicians do their very best to avoid taking the blame for things for as long as they can.
Montgomeryshire AM, Mick Bates has been playing this game for some time with regard to the divisive issue of upland wind farm development.
In the six months prior to the Assembly election, Mick Bates joined a cross-party 'Sustainable Energy' group which myself and Alison Davies organised.
This group produced a joint document called TAN 8 PLUS which tried to find a more sensible sustainable solution to our energy needs in Wales.
This was in place of the dangerously flawed original TAN 8 planning guidance note which focuses on upland wind farm development for political, as opposed to environmental expediency.
Mick Bates jointly signed this new document and even himself presented it to the then Minister, Carwyn Jones.
We now discover that when away in the Assembly, Mick says other things entirely. In the Assembly plenary debate of Oct. 24th. 2007, Mick in fact voted to confirm his support for the original flawed TAN 8 document. ......

......But there is something very wrong about saying one thing in one place, and quite another thing somewhere else. So for the record Mick, I want to make it very clear that you will now be held to blame for turning mid Wales into a wind farm landscape, and for ruining our glorious, natural upland environment.
Not to fight global warming, or to replace nuclear power stations, but just for political expediency. Alex Carlile would never have done this to Montgomeryshire.