Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Not Fit For Purpose

Never had anything against Peter Hain. Even respected his anti-aparthied stand. But he blew any claim he made on respect with his utterly reprehensible clause in the Government of Wales Act, which bars candidates from standing both for a constituency and on the Party List in May's Assembly Election. This was a disgracefully partisan clause in the Act -and he knew it. No wonder I so enjoyed my fellow blogger, Guido Fawkes embarrassing Peter by publishing a secret list of Labour Welsh 'names' who cannot bring themselves to back him. What we find is that the two Welsh MPs who know him best, David Hanson and Alun Michael, are out to stop Peter becoming Deputy Prime Minister. Guido's revelations were reported on by Tomos Livingstone in today's Western Mail. I really hope this scuppers Peter's chances for good. It's what he deserves. In my opinion, his behaviour over the Government of Wales Act makes him 'unfit for purpose'.

I have just discovered the breathtaking scale of Peter Hain's double standards - something I'm sure he hoped no-one in Wales would notice. Well, hard luck Peter. Last year the Scottish Parliament (a Lab - Lib Dem coalition) commissioned the Arbuthnot Report. Recommendation 9 stated;

"Candidates for election to the Scottish Parliament should not be prohibited from standing in a constituency and on the regional list in the same election"

The Westminster Labour Government, of which Peter Hain is a leading member has just given its official considered response to the Arbuthnot Report. It responded thus;

"The Government notes the Commission's recomendation strongly in favour of allowing a candidate to stand in a constituency and be on the regional list, and following this has no plans to introduce any change in this area for election to the Scottish Parliament"

The exact opposite of what they did in Wales! Peter Hain and Rhodri Morgan (together with their totally unprincipled colleagues at Westminster and in Cardiff Bay) are exposed as willing to fiddle the election system for Labour's advantage with total contempt for constitutional consistancy or decency. They think they can get away with it because voters will not be able to understand what they are up to. The reputations of Peter Hain and Rhodri Morgan will remain polluted for ever. I just hope the media give them the 'kicking' they deserve.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Swimming with Carl.

I'm trying to find out where Carl Sergeant goes swimming. And I suspect that everyone else who heard his contribution to the 'Smoking Ban' debate today will be just as keen. If the answer is not found - and publicised - there could be a massive reduction in the number of people who attend Flintshire swimming pools.

Carl was making the point that smoke wends its way through the air and finds its way into some unsuspecting person's lungs. His analogy was that when a swimmer 'wees in a swimming pool', some unsuspecting fellow-occupier of the pool cops it. I see what he was getting at - but we all wondered what experience he was speaking from.

We have a debate on the quality of drinking water next week. I am looking forward to Carl's intervention.

Scottish Foresight

I have just received a copy of a Press Release from my Conservative colleagues in Scotland about the announcement that the first 'super casino' is to be located in Machester. Bill Aitkin MSP said:

"I am disappointed but not surprised by this decision. Manchester, for some time now has seemed to be pencilled in as the preferred option".

As far as I know, virtually everyone believed that either Blackpool or Greenwich would win. Iain Dale has eaten his hat because he was so sure Presscott's mates were going to win the jackpot. I would be interested to read any speeches where this prediction was being made. I'd like to ask him or her who is going to win the Grand National.

My own view is that the Government want to keep the well-organised campaigns in Backpool and Greenwich as part of their overall campaign to allow more super casinos.

Today - The Smoking Ban

Seemed to have caused a bit of fuss today by tabling an amendment bringing in the Regulations to ban smoking in enclosed public spaces (jointly with Labour AMs, Ann Jones and Karen Sinclair). We think the ban should be brought in in July rather than April, on the same date as England. At least, we've ensured that this important decision has sparked a bit of a debate.

I have to admit that I can see some merit in this ban - even if my libertarian instincts make it difficult for me to vote in favour of banning anything - within reason that is. I have not the slightest doubt that the regulations will be approved today. When Karen and Ann asked me to sign up to the amendment, I was thinking more 'constitution' than 'healthcare'. In general where identical regulations are being introduced in England and Wales, I believe they should be introduced on the same day. When I was Chair of the Assembly's Legislation Committee, I often supported regs being rushed through on what was called the 'Executive Procedure' so that they could be introduced on a common date with England. In fact, I would have been content to see April being the common date.

And then there is the little matter of cost to the Assembly budget. The Assembly Government will be spending around £4 million on advertising the April date - much of which would not have been needed with a July starting date, because the Westminster Government would have been ploughing mega-millions into its campaign. And isn't it a convenient coincidence that this £4 million is being spent during an Assembly Election campaign. Just as the free prescriptions are coming in during the election campaign as well. I daresay our amendment will fall, but the more I think about it, the more convinced I become of its good sense

Monday, January 29, 2007

Blog Power

I wonder whether GCSE English exam papers still have a 'precis' question. It used be a major part of the old GCE exam that I sat in 1960. The idea was that we read a few thousand words, and then condensed it to a few hundred. It was a tough exercise which required a genuine understanding of the piece of literature under consideration.

I sometimes 'blog' on subjects like Tir Mynydd, Voluntary Modulation, or CAP reform, simply as an exercise in trying to present complex arguments in a comprehensible way - exactly the same as I did in my GCE English paper all those years ago. And at the time , I thought it was a complete waste of effort! Now, I don't really expect anyone to read these posts - just as I don't expect anyone to listen when I make a speech on these subjects in the National Assembly.

But No. I under-estimate the reach of Blog Power. After I published a post on Tir Mynydd on Saturday (imagining myself to be speaking as if I was the Minister!) in preparation for Assembly discussion to come, I had two telephone calls from wannabe AMs within hours, wanting to discuss the subject - and neither were farmers. So, expect a lot of posts on the intricacies of the Rural Development Plan over the next few weeks. And if you think to yourself "Who the hell will read that". Well, somebody will.

A Great Foot Deal

Courtesy of today's Telegraph

Sign in South London shop window; Massive Shoe Sale: Buy one, get one free

Sunday, January 28, 2007

What is Tolerance

A constituent sought my opinion last week on a matter of extreme importance to him. Did I support the proposal to force Roman Catholic adoption agencies to accept that they had to accept same sex civil partnerships as prospective foster parents. I couldn't answer. I have thought a lot about this question. It is a very difficult question to answer.

I think of myself as a 'libertarian' - but even resort to first principles does not give me the answer. If two gay people want to form a civil partnership - why not? If a 'married' gay couple want to adopt - why not? But then, if a Catholic adoption agency cannot accept that it must place a child in its care with a gay couple because of deeply held religious beliefs - why not again? Are we facing State intolerance or religious intolerance? Does the State have the power to pass laws that take no account of conscience. Would the British State make the same demands of a Muslim-run adoption agency? So many questions to be answered before I can answer one constituent's query.

In my youth I was not tolerant of homosexuality. But I have changed my opinion and today, I consider same sex relationships to be wholly acceptable - and generally, should not be discriminated against. I use the word 'generally' because, after much soul searching, I come down on the side of the Catholic Church. I had been leaning towards this answer before reading William Rees-Mogg in today's Mail on Sunday. I wonder whether I will still hold the same opinion in 5 years time?

24 hours later - And now I read reports that my leader, David Cameron has come out against the Catholic Church, while David Davis is reported to be taking the same line as I am. I hope this does not become a 'whipped' issue.

Blair is Finished

I've posted it before. Blair will be gone in March. Anyone watching our PM on the Politics Show today could see that he is living some parallel existence. He refused to answer most of Jon Sopel's entirely reasonable questions - and he adopted the Del Trotter approach by laughing and resorting to the "Who? Me Guv!" style which used to work. Tony Blair as Prime Minister is finished

But Mr Blair told us that he was staying until he finished - the job that is. What job? Well, sorting out a world trade deal, fixing climate change and ending poverty in Africa. Oh, and Northern Ireland as well. And he looked as if he believed it. He was completely thrown by the 'Saudi aircraft deal' question, which he must surely have expected. He didn't look as if he gave a damn that the UK could be condoning serious fraud. And he didn't seem to give a damn that Peter Hain has been openly undermining his authority in pursuit of the Deputy leadership of the Labour Party. Several times during the interview, he had the look of a naughty boy having been caught raiding the sweet jar.

I hope Rhodri Morgan wasn't watching. He will be a lousy mood on Tuesday if he was. He must be hoping for the Edmund Stroiber solution. Herr Stroiber, CSU leader of Bavaria announced last week that he intended to stay til 2012 - which caused such a rumpus that he's brought the date forward to today! Surely, Labour can't keep Blair in place until the May elections!

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Cowboys and Indians

Courtesy of today's Telegraph - advertisement on a builder's van

Khan and Khan - General Builders
You've tried the 'Cowboys' - now try the Indians.

If the quality of building matches the wit, this is one firm that is bound to succeed.

An Heffing Offensive Column

Page 8, and I rather enjoyed reading about my friend and colleague, David Davies, MP for Monmouth making a mighty song and dance about free prescriptions in Wales bringing about the demise of a 'National' Health Service. While I shared his opposition to the policy, I think he is over-doing the impact. But in another article on the same subject on page 25 of today's Telegraph, the increasingly hysterical writing of Simon Heffer just made my hackles rise. Regretably, I will soon be placing Heffer in the same catagory as Peter Hitchins - and just pass over the page whenever I see their names. If a writer is going to be offensive to a nation, he should at least try to be logical. This is what he wrote under the headline 'The English keep taking the medicine'

"So let us look at our good friends, the Welsh whose Assembly (funded with vast amounts of English money) has this week voted for the ridiculously expensive and pointless policy of free NHS prescriptions for all, provided they are registered with a Welsh GP........Now, the Welsh say that this £30 million a year stunt will stop people not getting medication because they can't afford it. And it will, of course allow them to spend the money on booze and fags instead,. Its nice to know what we English taxpayers work ourselves into the ground for, isn't it"

Apart from his sheer offensiveness, his logic seems to dictate that every nation and region of the UK should be allocated public money on a per capita basis. This pursuit of 'universalism' would be far more stupid than the free prescriptions policy which he so mocks - in effect, a policy of 'give to those who have'. The position at present is that Treasury spending in Wales is around £900 per capita more than it is in England - calculated by the Barnett Formula. In Scotland, it is around £1500 per capita higher. Most economists would argue that the per capita difference would not necessarily be lower in Wales (unlike Scotland) if Treasury spending was allocated on a 'needs' basis. Some economists claim that spending in Wales would be higher. So what the h**l is Heffer talking about.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Tir Mynydd Headache

As the only Conservative backbencher, and facing the prospect of ejection from the National Assembly next May (if Tories have a good election result that is) I can reasonably say that my chances of becoming Minister for anything are about as near to zero as it is possible to get. So I can think aloud about what I would do about the knotty problem of Tir Mynydd without there being any danger of some 'Smart Alec' digging into this post and reciting it back to me after next May, when the Minister will have to finally decide.

The issue is the most difficult that I have faced as Chair of the Environment, Planning and Countryside Committee. Let me explain what has happened. During the shenanigans about the Assembly Budget it was decided that the EPC Minister's budget for next year was not acceptable, and that the Committee should 'reprioritise' the relevant budget line to allow for an increase in the amount of cash for Tir Mynydd, a socio-economic grant scheme for upland farmers - from £22 million to something nearer to £36 million. But there was to be no extra money - so we are looking for approaching £14 million from other spending plans for next year, and for several years after that. And the issue is further complicated by EU rules.

As Minister, I do not believe that I would have any choice, because of the position all opposition parties have taken over the last few months, but to increase Tir Mynydd to at least £30 million - and the only way to find this sort of money would be by accepting fewer applications for other schemes such as Tir Cynnal and Tir Gofal. (Some bits and pieces can be found elsewhere). I would be very unhappy about this because it would have a negative impact on the environment - but a committment is a committment. However I would immediately explore how I could make the extra Tir Mynydd cash payable for some evironmental enhancement - and I would instuct my civil servants to look at whether the Tir Mynydd and Tir Cynnal Schemes could be merged. I would expect this to be the only way to make my changed priorities acceptable to the EU - which it would have to be.

The Feb 7th Committee discussion will be tough and I will try to find some common ground - but I do not expect the Minister or the Labour members to move much from the current priorities, because they have consistantly said they believe it is right. And all of the huffing and puffing could be for nothing anyway, because an incoming Government could reverse any of our changes after the election.

I hope you are a bit wiser about Tir Mynydd - but somehow I doubt it.

Another Post Bites The Dust

Decided to delete another of my posts. Only the second time ever - and on the advice of my 'taste weathervane', Richard Hazlewood, our media guru. I always take Richard's advice. But you can bet the farm on some other blogger having it highlighted on a post somewhere else in the blogosphere. I hope that Blamerbell, Peter Black etc haven't been visiting today!

It was my latest caption competition - two Scots (I hope 'Scots' does not have the same derogatory connotation as 'Japs'), dressed in kilts, with one of them displaying rather more of his anatomy than he'd intended. I posted it yesterday after a solid 7 hours political discussion without a break. In such a weakened state, I allowed standards to drop, almost to Channel 4 levels. Anyway, I am now rested and it is intended that this blog return to its customery 'right side of the fence' standard.

Just noticed that the judge who didn't send the sex offender, Derek Williams to jail yesterday was Peter Rogers brother. Peter, a colleague AM until the last Assembly election, was one of the most colourful and courageous politicians that I ever worked with. It looks as if fearlessness and a refusal to bow down before bullying authority is a family trait.

Twinkling Dragon's Eye

Last night's Dragon's Eye was probably the best I've seen. It shocked me, then amused me and then depressed me. I'd have gone to bed in an emotional turmoil, except that Lembit Opik was not on the Question Time which followed - after being announced as going to be on. My turmoil was pushed to one side by the obvious question, 'Was he pulled by the Lib Dems?' Perhaps he was unwell? I've already posted that the Lib Dems in Wales launched their Assembly election manifesto without Lembit, and that Mick Bates has airbrushed him from his 'surgery ads'as well.

Back to Dragon's Eye. The interview with Derek Williams was gripping. Mr Williams, from Blaenau Festiniog is a convicted sex offender who escaped jail because the judge had received a 'communication' from the Home Secretary - today's lead story in the Telegraph. What a way to run a criminal justice system! It seems that criminals are now to be sent to jail, only if there is room - and depending on what the Home Secretary has put in his latest 'communication' to judges. Over recent months there has been bad publicity for the Home Office, following prisoner escapes. Perhaps the idea is that if criminals are noT put in jail in the first place, it will reduce the number who escape. Lateral thinking by the Home Secretary?

And then we had the Assembly Culture Committee Report, which threatens the Football Association of Wales with a takeover. No - I'm not joking. Well, since the Dubai Government are considering buying Liverpool, why not? On the programme were Rhyl FC's ferocious central defender Ann Jones, Cardiff baseball expert, Owen John Thomas and North Wales' erratic utility player, Eleanor Burnham. They seemed to be justifying the Committee's Report at the same time as they were denying it. It should be an entertaining read. To be fair, the 3 football 'experts' in the studio made David Collins look like a pillar of reasonableness - which is a sort of acheivement in itself.

And the last item which left me so depressed that I cannot bring myself to comment on it. In fact I have forgotton what it was. My body telling me that it must be time to move on.

P.S. I am told by a reliable source that Lembit was withdrawn from QT for a fair enough reason - and that he will be appearing at a later date. So that's another wrong tree I was barking up

What Really Matters

Politicians are defined by a lot more than politics. In fact, politicians without what these days is called a 'hinterland' cannot usually connect with voters at all. One of my 'points of contact' - born of personal experience - is with people who are struck down with Bowel Cancer. Nothing in the political world rewards me as much as the sort of email I received this morning.

I felt that I had to make contact to say a big thank you. You are probably wondering what the hell for. I was told that I had Bowel Cancer during the early part of 2005, and that it would result in me having a permanent stoma. A friend passed on to me the copy of 'Tidings' which happened to be the one with your article in it. I read this with great interest, as your tumour was in the same spot as mine. After reading it, and how you dealt with it, my first thought was "This bloke's a nut case" - but what better role model can anyone ask for!!! so once again Thank you for the inspiration. Hopefully, I will get the chance to meet you one day face to face.

I will give the sender a ring tomorrow. I like to make contact with people who write to me on this issue - and I have met some wonderful people over the last 4 years. Real adversity creates bonds a lot stronger than political loyalties, which so often depend on coercion.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Saved by Eleanor Burnham

The story with the longest reach in the Assembly this week flowed from the elegant lips of Eleanor Burnham. The Assembly decision to make prescriptions free came in a very poor second. Everyone's been talking about Eleanor. I think I am the only blogger to post on free prescriptions - but the blogosphere has been humming with Eleanor-speak.

She asked the Minister "Why not invest in a Maglev train that the Japs use to whizz around the countryside at 320mph, rather than piddling around at 60mph as we do". This has stimulated a furore. Not because the fast train that the Japanese whizz around is not a Maglev. Not even because of the use of the word 'piddling' as a Parliamentary term. But because she referred to the Japanese as 'Japs'. Labour AM, Carl Sergeant objected, the Llywydd frowned and Eleanor withdrew the word and apologised.

I feel a bit like one of those Secord World War soldiers who emerges from the Borneo jungle after 40 years to find that the world had changed. I don't think I have used the term 'japs' in public myself - but I could have done. I didn't know the word is derogatory. The meaning of words do change over time, and it is clear this is one word where the meaning has changed. Eleanor has saved me from the possibility of personal embarrassment on this issue. I could be behind the times because I never watch war films. Anyway.

I don't want to offend anyone - so it must always be 'the Swedish', 'the Finnish', 'the Turkish', 'the Japanese' and 'the British'. Lucky there isn't a Magalev in Pakistan.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Free Prescriptions for All - Good or Bad?

Big debate of the week was on the Government's proposal to make prescriptions free for all - rather than the 85% of people that have them free already. This wasn't a straightforward issue for me - and I was pleased that we decided to abstain on it. This decision 'shot the Government's fox' because Rhodri Morgan was planning on saying that the Tories would re-introduce them. Well, we wouldn't. So there Rhodri! It was an election gimmick in 2003 and he hoped it would do the trick again.

If I'm honest, I've always thought there was a case for arguing that there is a better way of controlling demand for drugs than by prescription charges. What's dishonest, in my opinion is to pretend that there will not be a replacement mechanism to control the cost - and at present it looks as if the free prescriptions will probably translate into reduced access to new drugs. The problem is that the Assembly budget is finite and one extra pound spent in one area is one less pound spent somewhere else.

The most attractive aspect of the new policy is its 'universalism', a general principal that I am not opposed to. I do not like means testing where it can be avoided and I've always believed the ridiculous beaurocracy involved in Government charging creates massive waste and cheating. In passing, I have always thought it would be a good idea to abolish the TV licence and just fund the BBC directly. Jonathon Ross wouldn't be paid his unjustified zillions if this were to be the case. Its not as if the BBC isn't already terrified of the Government after the Hutton Report. But I'm sure this view must be against party policy so let me be clear this is a personal opinion.

But we can't get away from the fact that the money to pay for the ending of charges for people who are able to afford it is being transferred, however obscurely, to a cut in healthcare spending somewhere else, leaves me still believing that this is a wrong move. But it cannot be reversed - and in due course it will be copied in England. This really was a big decision.

Brynle Covers The Ground

Some people cast a bigger shadow than others in all sorts of different ways. But my colleague Brynle Williams dumbfounded the Assembly debating chamber today by announcing that he has 3 different postcodes. Now, I have always known Brynle to be a bit larger than life but even I was taken aback by todays announcement. I wonder how many times he is entitled to vote.

What to do about Supermarkets

I'm in a good mood. Not only can I access my blog again (after two days of network problems) but I was invited onto BBC's Good Evening Wales yesterday after an age of being ignored. The subject was the Competition Commision's 'emerging thinking' on the power of supermarkets.

Public opinion about supermarkets in interestingly contradictory. Almost everyone chooses to shop in them - because they provide the choice, quality and convenience that they want. (I've just bought a 500 gm carton of seedless white grapes from a Tesco Express which will be open til 11.00 tonight - that's service). At the same time, the easiest way for a politician to win public sympathy is by blasting the power of supermarkets. For years, every farmer's meeting I've beeen to has had a go at Tescos etc..

While I don't have much time for all this knocking of success, I do agree that supermarkets should be obliged to act in the overall public interest. There are two main problems, which featured in my interviews with Felicity Evans on GEW and Gareth Glyn on Post Prynhawn - (in passing, both top rate journalists). The first issue is whether the major retailers are creating a monopoly position through tactics such as buying up potential development land, just in order to sit on it and prevent anyone else developing it. And the second issue is whether supermarkets are applying excessive pressure on suppliers. This week's report made specific reference to dairy farmers and implied that fear of reprisal prevented suppliers presenting evidence to the Commission. This a serious charge and must be dealt with.

The point to remember is that supermarkets are hugely successful because they are ruthless - and they wouldn't survive if they were anything else. Commercial ruthlessness is to a supermarket as catholicism is to the Pope. It is up to the appropriate authorities to control excesses. If we think supermarkets are using their power unfairly, blast the OFT and the Competition Commission for being to weak or blast the Local Planning Authorities for not screwing enough out of them for the local community through Section 106 agreements. Anyway its 8.15 and I'm just nipping back to the Tesco Express to buy some milk for my breakfast.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Racism - Who to Blame.

Channel 4's response to the Big Brother 'racism' row is absolutely pathetic. Chairman, Luke Johnson and the rest of C4's bosses (whoever they might be) are not doing anything more than a little handwringing - and that for public consumption. I believe there should be an independent inquiry to establish whether anyone played a part in setting the whole thing up. And if anyone did, their heads should roll.

Personally, I thought making Jade Goody a national hate-figure (diverting attention from the real culprits) was a bit over-the-top. I don't like hearing the sort of low level racism she was guilty of - and it is good that she was booted off the programme. But it seems that Jade is not the brightest. The producers of the programme and the Channel bosses are a different matter. It seems to me that they must have known exactly what they were doing - and if they didn't, they shouldn't be in charge of producing TV programmes. The truth is, they were after viewing figures.

I just had an email about another case where the punishment for a rascist remark has been directed at the wrong target. Porthmadog Football Club have just been fined £10,000 (£9,000 suspended) and deducted 3 points following an incident in a recent match against Cwmbran FC. Someone in the crowd shouted out a rascist remark. The Club apprehended the individual, gave his details to the FAW and banned him from future matches. The Club has an exemplary record of opposition to rascism. If the FAW had banned the individual for life from all matches,that would have been fair enough - but it seems tough on the club when they seem to have done all they could have done.

Rascism should be stamped out - but we need to make sure the guilty ones are punished.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

BBC ignore Turner Arrest - Why?

The Sunday papers are full of the arrest of Ruth Turner, who works in the Prime Minister's office. This is serious stuff. So far, the police inquiry has been into whether peerages were handed out for loans. The issue now is 'perverting the course of justice'. The question now is "Has there been a cover-up?"

But there was no mention of the issue on Andrew Marr's programme - and only a secondary slot on the BBC news web-site, which is where I get my news. But we had plenty from the Beeb on John Reid's plan to split the Home Office, which was exactly the hope of the Government spin doctors when this plan was suggested. Thank goodness for the blogosphere - where the top stories get top billing.

And in passing, I really cannot see Tony Blair lasting until July. I reckon it will be March.

Rough Politics

What is happening to our politics? I don't suppose it has ever been a gentlemanly business but things seem to be getting out of hand. And I'm not referring to 'the Bill' fingering Tony's collar.

It was bad enough hearing Blair threaten David Cameron with Gordon's "Big Clunking Fist". It seems to be worse in the US. According to today's Sunday Times, when asked about Hilary Clinton's approach to her run for the White House, her campaign manager said "You don't walk into a knife fight without adequate gloves". There were some rum rumours about unsavoury Arkansas land deals when Bill was running for President. Perhaps its a family thing. Politics in the National Assembly seems very tame by comparison. Even Dafydd El and John Marek have not gone further than a war of words.

Cruelty of Hunting Ban

Almost every 'Sunday' today had photos of a fox being despatched by a gamekeeper on a shoot at Sandringham. And they all completely missed the point - in their desire to embarrass Prince Phillip. And the point is that shooting is more cruel than hunting with dogs. Perhaps next week, there will be photos of a maimed fox in a snare. The millions who rejoice at the ban on hunting simply do not realise that their 'success' is to have increased cruety to foxes, rather than to have decreased it.

The fox that featured on the front pages today was lucky that it was immobilised by the shot, thus enabling it to be despatched by a blow to the head - albeit delayed by a few minutes. At least it did not escape and die from its injuries in three days time after unimaginable pain - as happened to a young vixen which lived in my mother-in-law's garden a couple of years ago. She had grown to love the animal as she watched it frolic on her lawn and was much upset by the fox's distress. I only realised what had happened when she asked me to bury it.

I can forgive only because they know not what they have done. In our world, so much suffering is caused by ignorance.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Bottle of Chardonnay

Politics is about taking decisions - big important decisions. You never know on which day the big questions are going to face you. One faced me today. Bravely, I put to one side the constant scrabble for votes.

It happened like this. I held a surgery come coffee morning at Llanfyllin this morning - a formula which works well. Many people feel uncomfortable turning up at a formal surgery - but are happy to come to a fund raising event, such as today's do which I arranged in support of the local Church's 'Six Bells Appeal'. This morning there were lots of coffee drinkers and lots of people.

Then there was a raffle - and I had spotted a nice bottle of Chardonnay amongst the 10 or so prizes. I usually say "draw again" when I win - but when my ticket came up for the Chardonnay today, something came over me. Big decision. I accepted the Shamwari, which we have enjoyed tonight. Politics has its tough decisions and its compensations.

Where has Lembit Gone

Where's he gone. The ubiquitous one has dissappeared. Have the Lib Dems airbrushed Lembit Opik already? They can be so ruthless.

Last week there was no sign of him when Jenny Willott and Mike German launched the Lib Dem manifesto (or was it the pre-manifesto). No-one believed the spin about him never going to be there. Lembit is the Welsh Leader for goodness sake!

And now Mick Bates has airbrushed him as well. In today's Montgomeryshire County Times the Lib Dems are advertising a surgery. For years it has been a joint surgery with photos of 'Lem' and Mick Bates, the AM for Montgomeryshire. But today, Mick is there all smiles and alone. It is coming to something when Mick Bates has to airbrush Lembit. I suspect Mick is getting a bit worried about the advance of our man, Dan Munford who is making a real impact - and he sees Lembit as a liability. Can it get any worse than this?

Friday, January 19, 2007

But who lit the bloody fire, Wayne.

Just appeared on Call To Order, Patrick Hanaan's great Radio Wales programme which goes out at 6.03 every Friday. MP, Wayne David was the other guest. The only issue tonight where Wayne and I disagreed (except on matters of detail) was about Peter Hain's absolute 'tosh' about the Tories fanning the flames of the demise of the Union.

Tories warned Labour in 1997, as did many Labourites, (notable Tam Dayell) that the devolution settlement had within it an inherent unfairness towards the English (The West Lothian Question). This made the devolution settlement unstable. Now, the English take some stirring on constitutional matters - but when top-up fees were introduced in England by a vote at Westminster which depended on the votes of Scottish and Welsh MPs, whose constituents would not be subject to them because education is devolved, the sleeping giant stirred. The most worrying poll I have seen for a long time was that a majority of the English now favour cutting Scotland adrift. It is absolutely right that David Cameron should address this issue.

Wayne David, Gordon Brown and Peter Hain have the brass neck to accuse the Tories of "playing with fire" over this issue - and "fanning the flames". The question is "But who lit the bloody fire, Wayne". I'll tell Wayne who lit the fire. It was Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Peter Hain. All David Cameron is doing is trying to put it out.

Alun Pugh's New Suit

The wonderful news about the Metrix contract dominated Welsh politics this week. Which is the only reason that Alun Pugh's new 'snakeskin suit' attracted no media comment.

It was an extraordinary creation. Not only did it have a glossy sheen, reminiscent of a starling's back feathers, which reflected the light - but it was embellished with noisy scarlet stripes, acting as Alun's Labour 'loyalty card'. And the fulsome poppy-red silk liming was stunningly fluorescent. I am sure Katherine Jenkins has a dress made out of the same material. In my opinion, Alun deserves recognition of the great courage displayed in the way he so fearlessly stepped out in such glamorous attire.

What was Alun playing at I asked myself. Possibly looking for a new career as a circus ringmaster or a casino croupier if he loses his seat to our man, Darren Miller next May. Possibly inspired by Lembit Opik's new threads on display in Hello magazine this week - Alun has always had an eye for publicity. Alun told me that 'the suit' was hand made in Bangkok. Anyway, by 5.00 it had been replaced by something a bit less 'colourful' - reportedly, following excessive 'admiration' by his colleagues.

It will be interesting to see if the 'Snakeskin suit' makes a repeat appearance.

Brynle's Mate up to Something?

Met David Handley for a chat in the Paddington taxi rank yesterday. He is British farming's leading 'protester and he told me he was off to Sainsbury's. I'm not sure whether he was going to meet their Head Buyer, off to organise a picket of their Head Office or just to buy some eggs. Whatever, Brynle's old 'direct action' mate looked as if he meant business.

A Day in The Lords

Went to London yesterday. Absolute pits! Maximum train speed was 50 mph and most trains cancelled. But made the FUW lunch in the Cholmondeley Room at the House of Lords, but over an hour late. Still very worthwhile. Main speaker was the Chair of the Muslim Council, Dr Shuja Shafi. Now muslims are particularly important to Welsh farming because of the amount of mutton they consume. When I was a young farmer our 'scrap' ewes were worthless. Today, muslims have helped create a good market. I must admit the part of Dr Shafi's speech where he detailed the precise details of halal slaughter was a bit gruesome. It would have made Lorraine Barrett throw up all over her mutton dish, (or rather someone else's since she won't eat the stuff).

It was a great networking event for me - made more enjoyable by a little gentle ribbing of the Lib-Dem Lords, Emlyn Hooson, Richard Livesey and Roger Roberts about the details of the sex life of their party's Welsh leader. I get the feeling that they have had just about enough of it. Eleanor Burnham had better start installing telephone lines in her leadership campaign room.

The Lords is such a civilised place. Stuffed full of wisdom, along with the hearing aids and zimmer frames. Emlyn reminded me of Lloyd George's observation that the other place is living proof of 'life after death'. No matter, I would much rather be a member of the Lords than the Commons anyday. I have always found its wisdom based on experience to be more worthwhile than the opportunistic 'party line' politics of the Commons.

It might be vision from beyord the grave (the ultimate hindsight) but I found a lot more support for the 'Rainbow Coalition' than I had expected.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Labour at Sea on Union

We know that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown do not talk much - but even by their standards, the conflicting attacks on those seeking Welsh independence is unusally contradictory. It is also obvious that Peter Hain is no longer talking to Tony Blair. He has always known when it is time to jump ship - Western Mail today.

Over the last day or so, Hain has been running scare stories about Plaid Cymru (and the Tories) threatening the future of the Union. This is total gibberish of course, but he did achieve his objective which was to win some publicity for his bid to be Deputy Prime Minister. Gordon Brown has been promoting the same sort of line over recent days - as he tries desperately to avoid the blame for the current drive to Scottish Independence which he himself has caused.

Even Plaid Cymru seem to have put the whole 'independence' issue on the backburner - certainly until after 2011. (This is part of Plaid's very sensible preparation for coalition after May). But at the same time as all this tosh was being printed, Tony Blair was telling the world that "Welsh nationalists have virtually given up on seperation as an issue". Quite right, too. In passing, since I want the possibility of the Tories and Plaid working together after the May election, I was pleased to read Ieuan Wyn Jones' mostly sensible comments on this issue as reported in today's Western Mail.

Lembit Update - No 9

It was my first time. I had reached the stage in life when I didn't think it would happen. The experience would have passed me by. But 'No', it happened today. I refused an invitation to 'appear' on Good Morning Wales.

I was asked to tell the listening public what I think of Lembit's latest antics. I just think it would be a pity to intervene in the process of self-destruction. It seems that he, Gabi, Gabi's mum and Rocky, the Irish Wolfhound are plastered all over 8 pages of this week's Hello magazine - about 24 hours after Lembit told the BBC that he did not want to discuss his private life in public. Perhaps the BBC should have tried offering him a few shedloads of cash.

Anyway , it has come as a great relief to us all to learn from today's Evening Standard that Lem's besotment with Gabi is nothing to do with 'lust'. Perish the thought! It seems the basis of the relationship is entirely 'intellectual'. That must be why Hello reported that he was all over her like a rash during the photo-shoot - or at least stealing kisses all the time. Lem must have been reassured by Gabi's response when asked if he was her first true love. "I hope so" was the enigmatic reply. You really couldn't make this stuff up.

There is a silver lining for the Lib Dems though - two, if you count Eleanor Burnham's availabitity to take over as Leader in Wales. Hello contracts usually stipulate that recipients of their shedloads of money have to remain silent for 28 days afterwards. I wonder whether this applies to Gabi's mum.

Confused Re My Question

There is an top-class recycling centre, called Cae Post, based at Trewern, near Welshpool. When Nick Bourne 'allocated' me the opportunity to ask a supplementary question at yesterday's First Minister's Questions, I decided to give Cae Post a plug. Kirsty Williams was down to ask a question about designating a 'recycling' town in Wales.

I did some research about Cae Post and I was all primed to go. Came to Kirsty's question. Up she stood. "Will the First Minister consider designating a 'cycling' town in Wales." And I wasn't listening - but I was wonder why Rhodri Morgan was talking about mountain bikes and Danes being lucky that they are able to ride on flat ground. Now, its not unusual for Rhodri to ignore a question and answer a completely different one - but this seemed odd, even for him. It only dawned on me that I had mis-read the question on the order paper as I was called by the Presiding Officer. I did manage something about what the Government was doing to use the success of Nicole Cooke to inspire our nation to 'get on their bikes'. Mind you, Rhodri would probably have been happy to answer my question about Cae Post - and I'm not sure many would have noticed.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Peter Prendergast 1946 - 2007

Today, we've bought a landscape painted by Peter Prendergast, one of Wales' most renowned artists whose death I learned of from a blog posted by Chanticler yesterday.

I first encountered Peter Prendergast in the 1980s, when he was included in a small group of outstanding Welsh artists in an exhibition to promote Wales by the Development Board for Rural Wales, which I chaired at the time. Th photograph was the one we used at the time. I was hugely impressed by his interpretation of North Wales' industrial wastelands. Regrettably, I couldn't afford to buy - but we have put that right today. We now have a Peter Prendergast landscape which will be a constant reminder of a great Welsh artist who, tragically has died at such a young age.

Brass Neck of The Year - 2007

This blog's annual awards must be highly prized.So much so that the Secretary of State no less has put in an early bid for the title of 'Brass Neck of The Year - 2007'.
Soon after 7.00 this morning Post Cynta were on the phone. Was I available to respond to Peter Hain's comments about Plaid Cymru and the Tories planning to dismember the United Kingdom. After I had established in my own mind that I wasn't in the middle of some fantasy/dream I agreed.

It seems that Peter Hain has said that "The UK could be broken up by a coalition of Tories and nationalists". Now I am on record as saying that I am willing to consider working with Ieuan's disparate 'daffodils', but I didn't have in mind bringing down the shutters on the UK. To be fair to Plaid I don't think this is on their agenda either (except perhaps for the Faslane Tendancy). Rhodri Glyn Thomas was quite right to describe Peter's comments as "totally absurd".

Now ,let us consider this fellow, Peter Hain. He was the fellow who helped drive through devolution in 1997 - despite all the warnings that without resolving the West Lothian Question, the constitution was being destabilised. ( He is also a keen accomplice in the Euro-federalists UK-wrecking plan to divide the UK into 9 (?) separate regions.) From the beginning, it has been obvious to anyone who isn't blinded by political partisanship that there must be a mechanism to ensure that the English can decide on matters that relate only to the English. When Peter tries to point the finger at Plaid and the Tories, he ignores the fact that a majority of the population of England are now in favour of cutting Scotland adrift. And it was Peter wot done it.

Peter Hain is a worthy recipient of of this blog's Brass Neck of the Year - 2007

Monday, January 15, 2007

Back to Politics Full Time

Finally made it back to my computer to-night - having neglected my blog. Two days away and I've started to miss it. How sad is that? But been fully engaged with preparing the foundations for the great Conservative Assembly election victory next May. All day yesterday in the Metropole in Llandrindod working on strategy (Yes - it was Sunday) and then almost 5 hours today helping David Melding put finishing touches to our mouth-watering manifesto. I feel confidemce oozing from every pore.

Done nothing on the 'Rainbow Coalition' today - although I did 'appear' on Post Cynta this morning where the subject lurked in the background as I answered Gary Owen's qustions on Peter Hain's preposterous suggestion that the Tories and Plaid Cymru are a threat to the Union. The Western Mail's Tomos Livingstone followed me and Alun Michael - and seemed to be suggesting that there is all to play for in the election. I don't know what polls Tomos has been looking at - but my view is that Rhodri Morgan's goose is cooked unless Blair resigns in March - unless, of course, either the Lib Dems or Plaid Cymru step in to ensure that the convoluted wordsmith carries on for another couple of years. Time to stop before the Rainbow Coalition raises its head again.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

The Voters Deserve a Choice

No-one would deny that Adam Price is an able politician - but he has spent too long in London. In today's Western Mail he states that Plaid Cymru will "never allow" a Conservative led coalition to govern in the National Assembly. This statement warrents interpretation.

We all expect Labour to lose enough seats to eliminate any prospect of a Labour only Government. A categorical refusal to consider working with the Conservatives means that Adam is committed to joining a Labour coalition, irrespective of how badly Labour perform. I do not think the Welsh people deserve the restricted choice of Labour or a Labour led coalition. There will be a political price to be paid for guaranteeing Rhodri Morgan continuation in office - even if Labour has a catastrophic result.

To quote Taurus ap Thomas, "I hear my country cry out for the chains of Labour's to be broken. Oh, what painful irony it is that Plaid Cymru, who claim to love her most, then block her path to freedom"

Why Politicians Don't Blog

It was bad enough having Leanne Wood recite one of my more colourful posts in the middle of Final Budget debate. Alun Cairns had posted similar comments - but the 'Faslane Warrior' picked on me. And now, there is a blogger called Blamerbell on the loose, trawling through my posts, looking for opportunities to ridicule me - regrettably with some success. Its enough to force a lesser man to give up the blogging quill. It's a good job that I have decided to go serious for a few days in order to 'bang on' about a 'Rainbow Coalition' in the National Assembly.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Is 'Rainbow Coalition' a Goer?

All parties contesting the Assembly election intend to fight for as many votes and seats as possible - but against a background of probabilities so strong as to be virtual inevitabilities. Neither can we totally dismiss opinion polls - although these can change by May 3rd. This post is predicated on the Labour Party losing 5+ seats, which at present looks to be a fair bet.

So, let’s look at the arithmetic. Labour will not be able to govern alone. It is probable that Labour could govern in coalition with Plaid Cymru, and possible that Labour could govern in coalition with the Lib Dems. For Labour to be forced into 'opposition' will require some sort of coalition between Plaid Cymru and the Conservatives - and probably the Lib Dems as well. This is the only logical interpretation of the information we have. I accept that things could change - but in my view this is unlikely.

I do not think that another Labour Government or another Labour dominated Government is much of a choice for the Welsh electorate. There is a responsibility on the Tories to intrude into this cosy little 3-party comfort zone. I believe that we Tories should make it clear that we too have an interest in being part of the government of Wales. And the voters should be told.

While denying it publicly, I believe that both Plaid and the Lib Dems are eyeing up a Coalition with Labour. They would both prefer the Tories to stay out of it. Or as Peter Black says, "Give it a rest, Glyn". Well, I don't think we should wait for an invitation to this party. We should be inviting ourselves.

In an interview yesterday, Martin Shipton asked me what I thought the obstacles were to a 'Rainbow Coalition'. I said there were many, but there were three main issues. The most important is the challenge we Tories face ourselves to satisfy the people of Wales that we are a genuinely 'Welsh' party, committed to the interests of Wales. This is crucial to make us acceptable as potential partners.

At present, AM's in other parties are concerned that they will lose support if they are seen to be too close to the Tories. My aim is to appeal over the heads of 'blinkered' AM’s to their supporters. I intend to ensure that people know that the only logical consequence of hostility to the Tories is to ensure that Rhodri Morgan remains in office. Already, I am meeting senior people in Plaid and the Lib Dems who are much more open to working with us than some of their AM’s. The biggest challenge for me will be to reassure our own members that we remain committed to representing all the people of Wales, including English people who have taken the decision to move to our great country.

The second obstacle is Plaid Cymru's desire for a referendum on law making powers in devolved areas in 2011. Well, I would sign up to that. It would not surprise me if Labour turn out to be the only party that won't sign up to it. What are the Plaid voters in Ceredigion and Aberconwy going to make of that?

The third obstacle is Proportional Representation in local government. More difficult for me this - because I don't agree with it. But I would be willing to sign up for a 'binding' referendum on this as well, albeit reluctantly. Whatever, I believe that we would be far more open to suggestion on this issue than Labour. What will Lib Dem activists think of that?

Martin asked me if I would be prepared to serve under a Plaid First Minister. I told him that the day we all agreed to jointly voting down the Final Budget last December, I had assumed that Ieuan Wyn Jones would take over when Rhodri Morgan resigned. In any coalition, it would be normal that the leader of the largest partner would provide the First Minister. So the answer to Martin's question is Yes.

So Plaid Cymru and Lib Dem AM’s had best be prepared to deal with at least one Tory AM who believes the option of working with them in a coalition after next May should be something that voters should contemplate. And I do not care how dismissive they are over the next 4 months. They have a potential mate they cannot get rid of.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Risky Interview Today

I spent an hour with this blog's Journalist of the Year, Martin Shipton this morning. Martin had his recorder on as I talked openly and honestly about the approach I believe the Tories in Wales should be taking to power, coalition and devolution.

I know that not everybody in my own party would agree with everything I was saying - but there is not much point in being in politics without trying to influence things. I gave Martin a lot of material. Be interesrting to see what he makes of it.

However, I fully expect to be demoted to a secondary page - because his next interview was with the Llywydd, probably the most headline-worthy politician in Wales. We shall see. I will post an extended piece on 'Tories Path to Power in Wales' tomorrow.

The Exit of Tim Congdon.

So Tim Congdon has deserted the Tories for UKIP. This is deeply depressing. Its not that I totally agree with the academic 'purity' of his writing. Professor Congdon is too right-wing for me. But together with Patrick Minford and others he sets out a genuinely Conservative economic philosophy that has given me the luxury of something credible to be to the left of. I read his article in today's Telegraph with great disappointment. I think that he is wrong. I think he is misreading David Cameron.

It so happens that yesterday I was speaking to Brecon Business Club, where there was a fair sprinkling of Tories in the audience - and one of the questioners sought my view of David Cameron. I took a very different view from Tim Congdon, saying that I thought he was striving to make the Conservatives electable through talking about the issues that matter to young people - and by being openminded about what was right for Britain before deciding on policy. Now, we all know things will become a lot more difficult when all the policy discussion is over. Professor Congdon should have waited. I believe that David Cameron will develop a right-of-centre Eurosceptic party with a realistic view about what should be provided by the 'State' and what should not.

I too, believe that the 'State' has become too dominant. Taxation under Gordon Brown is too high. In Wales, I do not want the Assembly Election to become a competition in who will interfere more in people's lives by offering 'freebies' and undermining individual responsibility. I want to see a greater focus in Wales on harnessing the invention and innovation of the private sector. This is my philosophical base - but it is not one bit of use unless it is applied to the political reality of what the public will accept, and adapted to what is currently committed.

Pure philosophy guiding policy is to guarentee a place in opposition - at least until the country is in a state of near collapse and desperate measures are needed - as in 1979. Of course Tim Congdon does not agree with all that Cameron says. I wouldn't have expected him to. But he agrees with a lot more that he does with what Gordon Brown will do. He has left the field of play to become a bystander on the touchline shouting out "Listen to me". I think he is a big loss.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Extending Parliamentary Language

I read in todays Telegraph that s**t in now an accepted word in the House of Commons. Well, it is not an accepted word on this blog. The Speaker has ruled that s**t is an ok word to describe excrement in the debating chamber, but not to describe another MP. In my view there is an arguement for it being the other way around. Excrement is a perfectly adaquate word to use in the one instance - while I can see difficulty in hitting on a better word to describe some of the Hon. Members. There will now have to be rulings on whether the word can be used to describe what an MP has said - or whether it will be acceptable for an MP to say "I have been for a s**t".

And what about the Assembly. What will Dafydd El say if someone tries out this word next week. I'm sure that pusher of parliamentary boundaries, Mick Bates is itching to test the matter. He did say s**te a few weeks ago, but it was a slip of the tongue. And will the Llywydd agree with his Deputy, John Marek. Will they be find a suitable occassion to discuss it. Despite my 'libertarian' instincts, I do not want to hear the word s**t. The Speaker should reconsider his flawed ruling.

Blog Power.

No sooner does this blog point out that seeking an advantage in the education of one's offspring by buying a property in the catchment area of a good school is no different from paying school fees for a private school, than the green eyed fascists in the Labour Party come up with a plan to scrap catchment areas - at least according to todays Telegraph.

This is madness by crazed politicians, desperate to distract public gaze from the hypocrocy of one of its own ministers. The idea is that children would be 'bussed' across the city to an area they do not know, for social engineering objectives - when the school of their choice is next door to where they live. It would be environmentally damaging. It would cause even more transport problems and more obesity because children could not walk to school - or walk home for lunch. And it won't work anyway. What it will do is lead to an explosion of interest in private education. I hope that devolution will prevent such stupidity being forced on Wales.

And what is this envy-driven bunch of control freaks who are planning education policy at present going to do about all the advantage that is being 'purchased' via extra private lessons for students before exams? Ban that as well. Why not go the whole hog and ban parents who are itellectually equipped to give their offspring an advantage from teaching their own children? i really think we are watching the ravings of a government on its way out.

Lesson in Healthcare

No post yesterday. I was otherwise engaged. Went to Hospital where I yielded up a tubeful of blood, was subjected to a series of X-rays, and had a telescope stuck up my todger. Pleased to say that all seemed in order. But being stretched on the same trolley as 4 years ago, when I had a substantial part of anatomy removed or redesigned brought it all back - so much so that my blogging finger froze. While it would be unreasonable to expect every aspirant politician to undergo major surgery and put up with the indignity of the afters, it does give an insight into how important the politics of healthcare is - and what it means for individuals and families.

In passing, as the telescope was passing the prostate as it was wending its way up to the bladder, the consultant apologised for the discomfort and asked me how I was coping. I said that my wife has given birth 4 times - and all 4 were a bloody sight bigger than his telescope. I was not complaining. I am pleased to report that my blogging finger is unfrozen today.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Ruth Kelly - Right and Wrong

Huge excitement today about Ruth Kelly's decision to send her child to a fee paying school. I absolutely support her decision to do what is right for her own family. And I would have supported her even if there were no special personal circumstances relating to the child. And I supported the Blair's decision to opt out - and Dianne Abbott's decision to go private as well. Where I disagree with Ruth Kelly is in her inference that such a decision wouldn't have been right if her child did not have a learning difficulty. She is claiming that her local council agree thet it cannot supply the special teaching - but Tower Hamlets Council's statements haven't exactly been helpful to her cause.

But I utterly detest the hypocracy. Labour is the enemy of private education and never misses the chance to undermine public schools. Yet, so often in their personal lives, leading Labour figures seek advantage for their own. And why not. Anyway what's the difference between buying advantage in a public school and buying advantage through paying for additional private tuition, (which is now commonplace) or buying advantage through moving house into the catchment area of a better school, which two Assembly Members were recently accused of.

I faced this dilemma myself over 20 yrs ago. I was Vice Chairman of Welshpool High School Governors, when our eldest moved there from the excellent primary school at Berriew, in Montgomeryshire where we live. The first two terms at the High School were a total disaster. It was only a major committment by his mother that pulled the situation around. We agonised about what to do - but once we accepted that Welshpool High School wasn't right for us, we decided to send the other three to the nearby public schools at Shrewsbury and Moreton Hall. At the time, we did not know whether we would be able to afford it for more than a year or two. We hoped it would work out. I felt that I had no choice but to immediately resign from the High School's Governing body. I don't know whether Ruth Kelly was Education Secretary when she made the decision about her child.

Spend or Invest. That's the Question

Late Sunday, and just returned from London. Our eldest works in computers and he's just moved in - next door to Kew Gardens. Overlooks the Thames and a great view of the Varsity Boat Race as well. Very handy for us. All four of ours are into computers. We always made sure we 'invested' in the best home computer available (best we could afford that is) when they were kids. It turned out to be a very good investment.

And on reading the Western Mail website tonight, I learn from Matt Withers that Plaid Cymru intend to promise every child in Wales a free laptop if Ieuan wins the Election next May - at a cost of £10 million (and the rest). In passing, I wonder whether the sons of Welsh Labour Quango Kings who send their issue to Eton will qualify - just as I wonder whether Prince William would qualify for the gift of £5,000 which Plaid want to give to every new housebuyer. Anyway, I find this 'laptops for all' an interesting proposal. I know from personal experience that early familiarisation with Information Technology is hugely beneficial. But is it practical and is this the state stepping in to take over the role of parents. And would we see millions of outdated laptops in a years time. We felt that we needed to buy an updated version every year. I can see so many pitfalls in this. But I'm not as opposed to this as I was to free prescriptions for all, or free breakfasts for all, which were blatant vote-buying schemes - at least not without more detail.

But where is the money coming from? Over the next few weeks, we will be inundated with 'free offers' from political parties hoping to win favour with voters next May. The first question every time must be "where is the money coming from?" It is the blood of the small businessman that runs through my veins.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Ashes Remnants

According to today's Telegraph.

Q. What did Ashley Giles put in his hand to ensure that the next ball took a wicket?
A. A bat.

Q. What is the height of optimism?
A. An England batsman applying suncream before going out to bat.

Love, Lembit and December 6th - Wow

Now, what was I doing on Dec 6th last year. I really can't remember - but we all know what Lembit Opik was doing. According to Margit Irimia in today's Daily Mail, he was busy consummating his relationship with her daughter, Gabriela. Apparently, mum has this 'act of union' marked on her calender. Mrs Iremia also tells us that 'Lem' sleeps naked - and that since the relationship started, Gabriela has taken to sleeping naked as well. She also tells us that if Gabi gets cold, she just snuggles up to 'Lem'. Despite this, Gabi swears that there was no hanky-panky until Dec 6th. And then, on Xmas Eve, 'Lem' turned up on the doorstep with bath salts and chocs for Gabi's mum and some doggie treats for Rover, the Irish Wolfhound This is impressive attention to detail.

It looks as if this romance is the real deal. Methinks it had better be. I would not like to get on the wrong side of Margit Irimia by being too much of a party animal when Gabi is otherwise occupied. And if I was 'Lem' I would check what else she has got written on her calender. It is not that she's from Transylvania - or that the twins were born on Halloween. Its just that she seems so very protective of her 'cheeky' girls - that God help anyone who messes with them. I think he had better check that Margit hasn't already booked the church and ordered the cake.

I was at a meeting with Lembit in Newtown last night, discussing wind farms and renewable energy. He looked a bit distracted to me - especially when Mick Bates kept calling him 'my leader'. At the time, I had thought that he was concerned about a challenge to his leadership in Wales from the redoubtable Eleanor Burnham. But perhaps he was contemplating how he is going to manage his new unofficial publicity agent!!

Friday, January 05, 2007

Policy or Pique,Ieuan?

A day late, but I have finally caught up with Daniel Davies' interview with Ieuan in yesterday's Western Mail. Lets start by setting aside all the personal stuff. All that 'wobbly' ribbing did make IWJ very naggy and he hasn't fully recovered yet. But I'm willing to 'turn the other cheek' when he calls the Tories "extremely immature" - and I'm willing to let pass this ill-defined stuff about "a breakdown in trust" and "briefing against him". After all, he had to come up with some reason for what happened. I'm one Tory willing to talk policy - if Ieuan really means what he says.

He is reported to have told Daniel that the policy areas that matter are a referendum on a Scottish style government in Wales, health, education, housing and transport. Well, let's look at these areas in turn.

Firstly, education - Tories voted against the final Budget, which Plaid abstained on, principly because the Assembly Government was not giving sufficient priority to education.

Secondly health - Tories are committed to restoring investment in Health to levels comparable with England and Northern Ireland - from which the current Assembly Government have allowed them to fall.

Thirdly, housing - Tories are committed to more flexibility in the planning system as a way of tackling the shortage of affordable housing, and have consistantly called for more initiative in bringing forward more social housing.

Fourthly, transport - Tories have already said that we want greater investment in North/South transport links to promote a greater sense of Welsh 'nationhood'.

And finally, the referendum on law making powers, which seems to be the most important issue for Plaid. Many of we, Tories who were opposed to the creation of the Assembly, immediately accepted the referendum result and also accepted that the only logical way forward as a result of it was an Assembly based on the Scottish model. It may well be that the only party in the Assembly opposing a referendum on this turns out to be Labour. I would certainly be campaigning for full law making powers in devoved areas to be granted to the National Assembly.

So, what is all this buttering up to Labour by Plaid all about. The question is Ieuan, "Is this really about policy or is it pique"?

Fart Less, Save the Planet

I have often wondered what the hordes of civil servants do down at the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. I have often marvelled at where all the squillions go - especially since farmers in England, for whom DEFRA is responsible do not seem to be getting as much money as farmers in Wales and Scotland. Now we know. They have just spent £750,000 investigating how to prevent cows farting - or at least 'weaken the mixture' by reducing the methane content through diet. And it seems that in future Defra are planning an 'emmissions trading scheme' for farmers by which they can buy and sell 'farting quota' for their cows. I suppose that if this scheme is successful, it could be extended to other species, including farmers themselves.

I am grateful to Dan Munford, newly appointed Conservative Spokesman on the Economy in Wales for telling me about this. I have to admit that during the 15 years I worked as the herdsman in the family farm business, I didn't notice this potentially unpleasant bovine characteristic - despite the 'milk' end of a cow being roughly proximate to the 'methane' end. But then, we sold the dairy herd 35 years ago, and standards of behaviour have fallen dramatically over that time.

Dan tells me that the Lib Dems are also onto this. Chris Hulme, their environment spokesman has said that "flatulent livestock emitting methane are beyond a joke, and are a major and growing source of greenhouse gas emissions". Mike German has promised us one new policy every day until the Assembly election on May 3rd. He should be able to come up with some innovative way of utilising all this gaseous energy going to waste - perhaps mini heat and power generators for each individual cow which could be downloaded at milking time. Mike will need something for April 1st.

Ashes to Ashes

So its all over. The humiliation has ended. Only the second whitewash ever. At least, Freddie is reported to have a plan to win the Ashes back in 2009.

There's been a lot of talk about plans in this Ashes series - and the BBC sports reporter on the spot, Nick Bryant came up with the ultimate plan on BBC News this morning. He told us that after losing the last series in England, the Aussies went home, sat down and came up with the master plan that won the Ashes back. According to Nick, this master plan was to "score a lot of runs and then take 20 England wickets". That was some plan! This has given me ideas for how we Tories can win at the next Assembly Elections. We should try to win as many seats as possible. I think Mike German came up with something similar last week.

If Duncan Fletcher were to resign as a result of our humiliation, we would need a man with tactical awareness, vision and most importantly, the ability to come up with a good plan. Step forward Nick Bryant, the obvious candidate to take over.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Why Hold Back, Eleanor

Today's Western Mail reports on the seperate attempts by Lib Dem AMs, Peter Black and Eleanor Burnham to challenge Lembit Opik for the leadership of the Lib Dems in Wales last year. Peter is reported as saying that he was only trying to 'wind Lembit up' and is expecting the great Lib Dem showman to'get back on track' - but Eleanor says that she still hopes to be the leader, although at some time in the future.

Why wait Eleanor. Lembit seems a bit distracted at the moment - and I can tell you that a lot of former supporters in Montgomeryshire have had enough. You will never have a better chance.

Has the Beeb in Wales Abandoned Devolution?

Very surprised to see every BBB Wales news programme yesterday leading in a big way on a speech about bio-crops made by Labour Minister, David Miliband at the Oxford Farming Conference.

Not only is this a devolved issue, but it has featured strongly in Assembly business - when the subject was given minimal coverage by the BBC. All of the interviewees on yesterday's news programmes (John Valentine, Paul Ratcliffe and the NFU) gave evidence before the Environment, Planning and Countryside Committee in Haverfordwest last June. As yesterday's mass media reporting was going out, the EPC Committee awaits a response from Assembly Government officials to the evidence sessions.

There is much concern about there being establishment grants available in England, and not in Wales. No reference at all was made to this or to the Assembly Minister, who has responsibility in this field -and no reference to the Assembly Committee which has done a lot of work on the issue either. There was just reems of discussion with the Westminster based Minister who has responsibility for developing the biocrops sector in England. It was almost as if devolution had never happened. Very odd behaviour indeed.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Tories - We are a Changin

I have long thought Shadow Home Secretary, David Davis to be a top man. His 100% committment to the Cameron cause after his defeat in the leadership battle marks him out as something special. My only reservation has been that David has such a uncompromising right-wing reputation - while I have always been a bit more wimpish. So imagine my delight when I see David leading today's Tory attack on 'human trafficking'.

The world has just been celebrating the 200th anniversary of the end of the slave trade. The human trafficking that is happening today is probably much worse - reputedly 2 million women and children world-wide. The sheer scale of prostitution that is being 'forced' on Eastern European women is a crime against humanity. From the media coverage of the Ipswich murders,we learned that there were over 50 prostitutes in that small town. It beggers belief. 85% of the prostitutes in the UK are Eastern European - many coming here on a false expectation of a normal job, before being forced into a sordid life of exploitation. I don't suppose this is going to be a popular cause but I am really proud that my party is giving this scandal a high priority.

The UK needs a Border Police Force with specialist skills, we need to see a lot more arrests of the criminals responsible, more safe accommodation and helplines. And it would be a statemsent of intent if the UK signed up to the European Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings. This really is a changed Tory Party arguing for all these things - and David Davis is leading on it. He is an even better man than I thought.

Cancer - Is it Fate?

According to BBC Wales, less of us in Wales believe that healthy living can reduce the risk of cancer. I only part believe it myself - although I do believe physical fitness and mental attitude can help deal with it, when it strikes. Certainly helped me cope when I went down with colorectal cancer 4 years ago.

Cancer Research UK reckon that over 50% of cancer cases can be prevented. It seems that the most affluent people are willing to agree while the poorest people are resigned to their fate. In many cases, early detection is the secret for recovery.

So in this New Year, let us as a nation smoke less, not get so fat, take more exercise, eat more fruit and veg, drink more water and less alcohol, have more sex and don't overdo the sunbathing.

All Change for the Lib Dems - Perhaps

Lots of coverage today of Ming Campbell's determination to remain as leader of the Lib Dems. Poor old IDS didn't last long after being forced to make these sort of statements. It is all very worrying. I had been banking on a Campbell/Opik 'dream team' leading the Lib Dems into the Assembly election - giving real hope to the electoral chances of sparkling Suzy Davies in Brecon and Radnorshire and the hard working Dan Munford in Montgomeryshire. We should expect some 'helpful' comments from Welsh Lib Dems over the next few days about how incredibly young Ming looks and how Lembit 'hasn't done anything wrong'. Don't rule out a Nick Clegg/Eleanor Burnham 'dream team' taking over in the next few weeks.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Why Not Just Build New Houses.

Affordable housing seems to dominate today's Telegraph. Front page announces that " House prices are at their most overvalued for 15 years" and page 4 previews an announcement by shadow housing minister, Michael Gove of a proposed new scheme which would allow househunters to buy only the actual building, leaving ownership of the site with a community trust. I will be interested to read details of this scheme - but the real answer is to eliminate the shortage by building more houses.

The main culprit is the planning system - the leviathon state at its worst. It is a real 'ball and chain' on local democracy and the single greatest cause of social disruption in our rural areas. The whole planning system needs a radical overhaul, giving much more freedom to Local Planning Authorities to decide what is appropriate for their own areas. If an LPA decides that it wants to satisfy an obvious local need by approving an application to build houses, why on earth should 'cental' government stop it.

So many young people's dreams of home ownership are destroyed by our planning system. So many marraiges founder on the frustrations imposed by our planning system. So many communities are asphyxiated by a planning system that eliminates green space in towns - because of a mindless ban on building elsewhere. So many of our rural services are rendered unviable as young people fail to find housing in their local areas.

The worst part of all this is the new grotesque rules which have been brought in to prevent local councillors expressing their opposition to their planning 'masters' - threat of costs - ban on speaking when there is even the tiniest remote pretext. We need a new planning system which allows people to build more houses. The most effective response to a shortage is an increase in supply.

Gavin Henson's Book - Much Ado about Nothing

Finally got around to reading 'My Grand Slam Year', written by the BBC's Graham Thomas under the pseudonym Gavin Henson. I really like Henson's style of play and obvious star quality. I will never forget watching him striding up the Millenium Stadium pitch with Mathew Tait, England's new 'wunderkid' under his arm as Wales won 11-9.

I expected a controversial book after the furore when it was published. It turned out to be very tame stuff indeed. In the most talked about paragraph, it seems that Gavin reckoned Brian O'Driscoll had pulled his hair and tried to gouge his eyes before asked him "How do you like that, you cocky little fu**er". And in another game Brian had called Gavin "a fu**ing w***er" after some incident. I can see that there is an absense of politeness in this approach, but you'll hear worse any night you drive down St Mary's St. with your car window open.

But Gavin does launch into Lions Coach, Clive Woodward and Tour Spin Doctor, Alistair Campbell - justifiably so in my opinion. There was only one funny line in the entire book. 'Alfie' took over as captain after the All Blacks deliberately maimed O'Driscoll in the 1st test - and his first team talk (before the 2nd test) amounted to "I've only got two words to say to you. Don't fu**ing panic".

Please, don't let it be Lembit.

Just had a nightmarish thought. All this talk about a prominant Labour MP and a prominant Lib-Dem MP jumping ship to join the Tories had seemed to me to be encouraging news. I would roll out the red carpet for someone like Kate Hoey or Vince Cable or Nick Clegg. But what if it turned out to be Lembit - attracted by David Cameron's promise of another vote on the hunting ban. My home county of Montgomeryshire has suffered enough. How much is a one-way ticket to Australia?