Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Rhodri's Joke too far

What a hoohah about a pathetic old joke. Who else but Rhodri could turn such a worn out gag into a front page story in the Western Mail. The only minor consolation is that it was reported that Peter Hain and Tony Blair were embarrassed.

First time I heard the gag, it was from the lips of Lord Emlyn Hooson, when he first stood for election to the House of Commons around 40 years ago. Emlyn claimed to have visited a lifelong Liberal supporter who switched to the Conservatives on her deathbed, because she preferred the Tories to lose a supporter than her beloved Liberal Party.

But we don't have to worry too much about Ian Paisley's sensibilities - even if the joke was tasteless. I heard yesterday what the future First Minister of Northern Ireland has to say in response is to the mention of Peter Hain's name. Apparently Hain has acheived unity accross all parties in Northern Ireland for the first time ever, though a common loathing of the Secretary of State himself. It seems he refers to Peter as the 'Orange Man'. Now that is a modern and rather good joke.

Its 'different from' - not 'different to'

The Telegraph has stirred up its readership into a right lather about words and phrases that annoy. We all use such words without realising we do it - and its difficult to stop. It took several years of spousely reprimand to stop me from saying "I aren't", and "Different to", and "Compared to". And I still haven't driven out the utterly meaningless "I mean".

A friend of mine, who used the word "f***" in almost every sentence, was elected to the local Community Council. The first time he made a speech to the Council was a report back after an air show elsewhere in the County. For five minutes, total concentration kept his contribution totally f*** free - but as finishing his last sentence he said "The show finished with two planes looping the loop and the one plane was up the a*** of the other. Fellow councillors still smile whenever the occasion is mentioned.

My pet hates are "joined-up Government", Enjoy" when the main course arrives and "Tony" instead of Prime Minister.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Come on the Reds

Sponsered a presentation at lunchtime today about saving the red squirrel in Wales. At present, the only effective way to do this is by killing lots of grey squirrels. This might cause anguish to sensitive souls (Lorraine Barrett comes to mind)but the options are either a mass kill of greys or shutting eyes and let the reds all die of squirrel pox. Anyone with a heart and who values biodiversity will go rushing out for a gun licence to despatch as many of these grey tree rats as they can find.

So many people think a squirrel is a squirrel - and whats in a colour. Well, a lot actually. They are two very different creatures. One is shy and needs a sizable area to survive while the other has the cheek of the devil and a destructive streak to match. The weight of the maximum density of greys for any given area is 10 times the weight of the maximum density of reds. The food requirement for greys in a given area is 10 times that for reds - which means that millions of birds eggs and chicks are eaten every year to satisfy the grey's voracious appetites. The reds eat seeds mostly. And in the long run, it will not be possible to maintain woodland cover in Wales because of the damage that greys do to trees. And reds and greys cannot live together because greys are riddled with pox, which kills the reds. Grey squirrels are really bad news.

In the longer run, the greys will be controlled by contraception - and I don't mean little rubber durex, but something in their food. Trouble is that if we want any reds to be left, we must launch serious eradication policies now. So "Come on Lorraine - get your gun out. Lets go a-huntin"

Name Them

These two young men have changed almost beyond recognition over the last 20 years. Top marks if you can name both of them.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Just Denis Joke

Good joke about Sir Denis Thatcher in the weekend's Telegraph.

It seems that Sir Denis boarded a train in Paddington, going to play golf in Bristol and found it had standing room only. He didn't want to stand for 2 hours because he was 74 years old at the time and didn't want to be the butt of the inevitable jokes about not being able to find a seat. Then he came upon a carraige which was absolutely empty except for a sign which read "Reserved for Reading Psychiatric Hospital". There were 8 empty seats, so Sir Denis took one.
When the train reached Reading, the door opened and the Reading Psychiatric Hospital group came in. Their 'minder' looked around and said "There are too many people here". He counted. "1,2,3,4. Who are you?". "I am the husband of the Prime Minister" replied Sir Denis. "Ok, 5,6,7,8."

Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Name's Bourne - Nick Bourne

Since last December's Assembly budget debate fiasco, I've been the only one talking about a 'Rainbow Coalition' taking power next May. I have only been away for a few days and return to find that almost everyone is talking about it. I'm told that Elfyn Llwyd was on Dragon's eye last Thursday explaining that it is on the cards - but only if Ieuan Wyn Jones can be the First Minister. Now, what is the Welsh for 'no principles'. "Dim egwyddorion" I think.

And over the weekend, Rhodri Morgan, Tony Blair and Peter Hain seem to have been basing their entire appeal to voters on the probability that, what they variously refer to as a 'nightmare alliance' a 'ragbag coalition' or a 'tripe alliance' is the only option if Labour is not returned in triumph next May. Plaid are so upset about this that they are making rather pathetic threats of legal action unless it stops.
I felt my chest filling with pride when I read Rhodri's description of us as being 'as hungry as a starving tigress on the prowl'. There was Rhodri demanding "more grunt up front" from his Labour team - while running scared of losing his rear to an irresistable pack of Tory big cats coming up from behind.

The odd thing is that I've heard none of them mention the name of Nick Bourne, who leads this hungry pack. Rhodri has been launching into David Cameron, William Hague and someone with a name like John Redward - despite banging on about wanting the Election to be fought on 'Welsh' issues. The name of your Tory opponent (and likely replacement) Rhodri is Bourne - Nick Bourne.

It is an interesting question. Why cannot Rhodri or Hain utter the word 'Bourne'. Is it because they think it won't frighten the horses as much as the names, Cameron, Hague or someone called something like Ridewood. Or is it because they don't want to give 'Bourne' greater name recognition amongst voters. Mind you, I thought Rhodri's hair looked very neat on TV today. It looked as if he'd been to Ken Pictons in the Bay. Things must be getting desperate.

What's going on at Powys County Council

While I was away on a break last week, it emerged that Powys County Council has been employing staff, who have contact with children, who haven't been through the proper criminal record checks. I imagine that the Council was more shocked than anyone to discover this. This should never happen of course - but I'm more concerned about the Council's reaction. There shouldn't be any questions to ask a week later - but there are.

The Council may have discovered the problem itself - but why was the information kept secret? I'm told that the matter was brought to public attention by a 'leak'- when it should have been via a Public Statement by the Council Leader. I'm also told that there is a massive 'molehunt' going on within the Council to find out who 'leaked' this information. The 'whistleblower' deserves our grateful thanks. The only response should have been full public disclosure. There should not have been a whistle to blow.

I note from the BBC website that the problem is mainly with peripetetic teachers. The obvious question to be asked is how many of these teachers have been involved in 'one to one' unsupervised lessons? Is the Council going to interview all pupils (and their parents) who may have been in this position?

And then there is the position of school governors, who I underestand should also be subject to some form of checks. I have already been told by two school governors this afternoon that they have not been subject to any checks whatsoever. How common is this? At the very least, this shows a rather casual approach towards the potential for giving unsuitable individuals access to our schools.

I also read that the Minister, Jane Davidson has been vocal in her condemnation. I wonder whether she has contacted all Councils to seek reassurances about compliance with requirements for checks, both with staff and with school governors. Or has she left it to the WLGA? I will contact her office tomorrow to ensure that this issue is being taken as seriously as it should be.

Back Home - Trees to Plant.

Just home from 'Sun, Golf and Sangria' in S. Spain. Lets consider the cost of my break - to both my wallet and the environment. Lets compare my four day break with the cost of an overnight stay in London.

Travel costs (car to John Lennon, Ryanair to Mercia, hire car to La Manga) were less than car/rail to Westminster, which is where I usually go. Villa costs were no more than one night at a medium standard hotel. And door-to-door time was five hours rather than four and a half to Wesminster. And my experience tells me that low cost air travel is rather more dependable than the railway.

The point I make is that for anyone living in North Wales and buying one of the zillions of apartments going up near San Javier, Med breaks are cheap and convenient. More so than watching Everton playing away, for example. Now Ann Jones may prefer to watch her Rhyl team playing at Llanelli, (and every Welsh rugby fan would have preferred to be at Croke Park yesterday) - but most people would rather head for the Med. and we had better get used to it. That's what peoeple are going to do in increasing numbers.

Now to the cost to the environment of the exponential growth of cheap Ryanair/Easyjet travel. I suppose I can plead 'carbon compensation' because I plant 200+ trees every year - but this misses the general point. The only effective solution will be costs-driven technology - and the only effective discipline will come from a global carbon trading scheme. Simply piling extra tax on aircraft fuel is just going to discriminate against the poorest. Anyway, it was a wonderful four days. The only drawback was that the villa didn't have internet access - which I will ensure doesn't happen on my next trip to La Manga. I've missed my blog.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

One opinion poll – who cares?

Sitting on a plane at John Lennon airport and practicing my answer. Best be statesmanlike. Absolutely no gloating. No admitting that I read the front page of today’s telegraph about 6 times. Better pretend I’ve hardly noticed.

“It’s only an opinion poll – and the only poll that counts is the one on election night. We’ve come along way – but there’s still a mountain to climb. Etc etc.”

Today’s ICM poll for the Guardian gives the Cameron led Tories a 13 point lead over a Brown led Labour Party. The best polling position since 1992. Labour down to Michael Foot levels and the Liberal Democrats in retreat. Surely I can risk a smile.

I deny absolutely that my flying away to La Manga for 3 days golf is any sort of celebration. Because “it’s only an opinion poll – and the only poll that counts is the one on election night. We’ve come along way – but there’s still a mountain to climb. Etc etc.”

Monday, February 19, 2007

Opportunism and Hypocrisy

My wife has been complaining that my blog is becoming too political. She says that I should try to write something funny. So thanks are due to Peter Black. In a post onto his widely read blog earlier today he, (a Liberal Democrat) accused us, the Welsh Conservatives of 'opportunism and hypocrisy'. Political jokes don't come much funnier than that! Its a bit like Tony Blair accusing anyone of 'spin'.

The issue which instigated Peter was Council Tax, a form of taxation which, in principle, I've always supported. In fact, I welcomed it when it was brought in to replace the Community Charge (Poll Tax) - in 1993 (I think). And its slightly more progressive than the old Rates system. But, since it is essentially a regressive form of taxation, it can only work at an 'affordable' level. This is an imprecise figure but it was around £350 on average when it came in - and is now over £1000 on average and will go up by another 4%-5% this year. This scale of increase makes it unaffordable for many people. Labour has discredited the system by driving it up an out of reach.

The second cause of rumpus over Council Tax has been the recent revaluation exercise. I was Conservative Party Spokesman on Local Government when revaluation was approved. I did not oppose it - and I don't think Mike German did either. (Mike was Lib Dem Spokesman on Local Government at the time.) I am on record as saying that for a property tax to be effective, there needs to be regular revaluation. Inevitably there would have been winners and losers - but in about equal measure. In fact, over 30% went up and about 8% came down. The problem arose because the total sum raised by Council Tax was increased by almost 10% under the cover of revaluation - after the Assembly Government had given us an absolute assurance that this would not happen. Again Labour totally undermined the Council Tax system.

The Lib Dems and Plaid Cymru want to scrap Council Tax and replace it by putting another 3%-4% on Income Tax instead. Interestingly Sue Essex was in favour of this until she became Finance Minister and properly understood its drawbacks. 'Axe the Tax' is a great 'slogan' - but for political parties that never expect to be in a position to put it into effect. In fact its as blatant an example of 'opportunism' as you will ever see.

Seperated at Birth?

Daniel Craig has become one of the world's leading hearthrobs as a reult of this photograph.
I was hoping this photograph taken in the West Indies last year might do the same for me. I accept that the pecs are not quite as well honed as Daniel's - but you hardly notice the difference without close inspection.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Vision of a Tory Wales

We all have our favourite quotations. "I have a dream" is one of mine - combining vision with hope. It was spoken by ex-Plaid Cymru AM, Brian Hancock talking about Wales' canal network in the old Assembly Chamber, four years ago. None of us who were there can ever forget.

I have a dream too. I dream about the Tories replacing Labour as the governing party in Wales. My country being governed by a genuinely, deeply Welsh party of the Centre/Right. It's no surprise I enjoyed today's political TV.

First, The Politics Show. All about Rhodri Morgan losing power next May, after falling behind even what Alun Michael acheived. Then it was Plaid's turn. Jill Evans was running up the unilateralist flag. As it happens I have some sympathy with the view that Gordon Brown's committment to Trident + is more to do with politics than strategic defence. And then it was over to Manifesto on S4/C - where the Tories were talking about stregthening legislative support for the Welsh Language. Tory AMs falling over each other to speak in the language of heaven - and David Melding is learning as well!

Let Plaid Cymru talk to the birds about nuclear weapons, while Labour falls apart. We'll talk about how we stregthen Welsh 'nationhood' and what makes Wales a distinct and proud nation. Lets see what the voters of Wales think of this. And I've always been hugely enthusiastic about the restoration of the Montgomeryshire Branch of the Shropshire Union Canal as well. Dreams unify body, mind and spirit - and always have some link with reality.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

A Nice Day Out

Some people enjoy their Saturdays out shopping. Some enjoy shooting beautiful tame birds. And there are even some who enjoy watching Wrexham playing fooball. None of these things appealed to me today. I much preferred spending most of it at the Montgomeryshire Conservative Association AGM.

There were 70+ members in Trefeglwys Village Hall and the ladies had prepared an excellent lunch. I was billed to speak after lunch - alongside Montgomeryshire Assembly Candidate, Dan Munford. Dan is making a real impact and he deserves to do really well on May 3rd. I suspect Mick Bates is feeling the heat, especially with all the Lembit ridicule still rife. I knew Dan would cover all the well deserved courtesies, so I decided to give full vent to my ideas on the sort of Party I want us to be.

All the usual stuff about change - and voting 'Blue' to go 'Green'. But then, I went brutal about how awful the last two Assembly election results were for us and how we have to change in Wales, to put this 'English Party' image behind us. In Wales, we're a Welsh party, committed to Wales, the Welsh Language, Welsh culture, a 'Scottish model' National Assembly, and willing to work with Plaid Cymru and the dreaded Lib Dems to bring to an end the Labour one-party-state that Wales has been for most of the last century. I said anyone calling for the Assembly to be abolished, (which I accept is an entirely coherant policy) just loses us electoral support. I said any Conservative not voting in the Assembly election on principle (because they do not believe in the Assembly) just hands power over to the Labour Party. And I said that within a very few years, the Assembly election will be seen as far more important than the Westminster election (Our MP helps here by being so much a camera chasing media opportunist).

I do not know if everyone agreed with me - but it seemed as if they did. Perhaps they sensed the wild-eyed fervour with which I think these things and were too polite to say anything. Montgomeryshire people are essentialy reasonable and I am one of them. Anyway, I thought it was a nice day out.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Rainbow Coalition Gathers Pace

Every Tory in Britain now knows about the 'Rainbow Coalition'. It seems that it has been renamed the 'Grand Coalition', which I would have thought better describes a Labour/Tory union. For some reason, the top journos at the Beeb call it a 'Brazilian Coalition'. Now, I thought a Brazilian was some sort of hairdo.

Anyway reading the ConservativeHome website a few minutes ago, there it was. Under the heading "Right wing critics helpful to Tories", Nick Bourne was openly discussing the 'Grand Coalition' on the one page in the UK read by every Conservative in the land.

As the Assembly elections in May approach, Bourne said that the Minority Labour Administration in Cardiff could be replaced by an alliance of Tory, Plaid Cymru and Liberal Democrat AMs.

"We have to look at the arithmatic on May 3rd and there are various possibilities and I don't think you can discount the possibility of a Grand Coalition" he said.

"As Assembly Members, we have to do what is in the best interests of the people of Wales. Without being pompous about it, we have a constitutional obligation to look at the results and say, "How do we move on from here".

I don't think a minority administration is a stable administration. We have one now that only just has a minority. If they lose more AMs I don't think they could stagger on for a full Assembly term with 24 or 25 members. Its just not realistic.

So we need something more stable and one of those possibilities is an alliance amongst the now opposition parties".

Too bloody right it is! I thought I saw Ieaun looking a bit more relaxed this last week. I think he must have calming down after all the 'wobbly' rumpus before Xmas. I'll help things along a bit more, by saying that Ieuan is a 'tidy' fellow - something of a compliment in the higher reaches of the mountains of Montgomeryshire. It looks as if the Assembly election might not be so boring after all.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Rhodri and Tsawang

I can't imagine Rhodri Morgan sitting on a yak. But he thinks just like a Tibetan sheep farmer nonetheless. For Tsawang Dumi, his yak is the equivilent of Rhodri's ministerial car. You may ask what the devil this has got to do with the price of parsnips - but read on. Or read today's Telegraph, page 6.

The only two people in the entire world that I've read about extolling the benefits of global warming are Rhodri and Tsawang, who lives in the mountains between Llasa and Mt. Everest. While Rhodi sees Wales becoming the new Costa Del Sol with scantily clad sun worshippers drinking cocktails in a beach hut at Borth, Tsawang sees a world without neccessity to move his sheep down the mountain in the lambing season. Both see climate change bringing about a better world for their own bit of it.

In the Assembly this week, everyone was appalled by Rhodri's ill-considered comments about climate change giving Wales a competetive advantage. But there is always one. Usually its Jeff Cuthburt. Always one lone voice saying "Well done, Rhodri" - even if it is a Tibetan sheep farmer who lives 23,000 miles up a mountain in Tibet.

So what's the Top-Up Fees Damage?

Interesting article on the impact of top-up fees in today's Telegraph. It seems that there are record numbers of applications for entry onto undergraduate courses in 2007 - up 6.4% on 2006. Figures were even up on 2005, which was artificially high because students were opting to skip their gap year to start their courses before top-up fees came in. So much for the dire warnings that students would be put off university education by top-up fees!

Even more surprising is the provisional data from Ucas which show that the proportion of students from lower socio economic groups in England has risen from 30.9% to 31.3%. I realise that a system of means tested maintainance grants were brought in at the same time - but still! So much for top-up fees deterring students from poorer families!

I'm not sure exactly what these figures mean - but they do need some explanation. At first reading, it certainly looks as though top-up fees have had no deterence effect at all. It'll be interesting to see how those who have been implacably opposed to top-up fees will be able to interpret these figures to show that top-up fees have been damaging! Perhaps the figures are just wrong?

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Carwyn Blowing with the Wind.

I have to keep on reminding myself. Never get on the wrong side of Alun Cairns. He reminds me of Dave Timmis, who played scrum half with me at Shrewsbury in the 1970s. Always harrying , sniping, probing and as soon as my opposite number at open side got a bit 'cocky', Dave was through the gap like a ferret up a drainpipe. Well, yesterday, Alun's ferret shot up Carwyn's drainpipe and bit him in his soft spot.

The ocassion was the Conservative Party's Minority Debate which was worded thus

"To propose that the Nation Assembly for Wales recognises that mitigating the impact of climate change is the most important challenge facing the National Assembly and believes that this must become the first priority of the Assembly Government"

We intended it to be an opportunity for all parties (including mine , of course) to make a powerful statement about a committment to mitigating climate change. But, largely as a result of some ill-considered comments by Rhodri Morgan about climate change the day before, the debate degenerated into 'knockabout'. Carwyn was trying to embarrass my party because of our scepticism about the capacity of on-shore wind is deliver the answer, when Alun struck. Something along the lines of

"Minister, you are extolling the virtues of wind power. Yet, in a public meeting in Bridgend before the last election you told hundreds of people that you were against wind power. Don't you think you should apologise"

With Carwyn, you can always tell if you have landed a direct hit. He comes out fighting, and lashing out in all directions - creating as much dust as he can to obscure his discomfort. But we weren't fooled. Alun had nailed him. Carwyn was reduced to a riposte that Alun was not at the public meeting, which Alun tells me is completely untrue. And the gist of Carwyn's response was that time has moved on - always a weak defence. He's lucky that Labour's gerrymandering of the electoral system has prevented Alun from standing against him in May's election. Carwyn's political career could well have floated away on the breeze.

Ian Rush joins the Team

Great to see Ian Rush, probably Wales' greatest ever finisher (expect perhaps for John Charles who was of a different age) looking so lean and fit yesterday. Ian was in the Assembly presenting a £500 cheque from McDonalds to Cancer Research UK. The cash was the Welsh 'Parliamentary' team's winnings in last August's McDonalds-sponsered UK Parliamentary Shied, played in Cardiff. I can't work out how we won anything - since we lost to N. Ireland and England - and didn't make it to the final which was won by the Scots with a team stuffed full of ringers.

Great to see Minister for Sport, Alun Pugh at the event as well. Now Alun is a creative midfielder, who was a key member of our team until all the hoo-hah about McDonalds erupted. He turned tail in the face of fire from the food police. Alun made a nice little speech and I hope there's a nice little photo of him with a McDonalds backdrop. Its clear, that as well as being a fabulous footballer, Ian Rush has a talent for persuading politicians to set aside childish principles. Perhaps it was just the chance to get a photo in the papers. Perish the thought.

At least Health Minister, Brian Gibbons didn't turn up. Brian also played in our team at one stage - but pulled out after the ' McDonalds burgers makes you fat' issue blew up. Brian had a good excuse though. I'm told that he thought the 'Golden Arches' M on the front of our shirts was actually a W for Wales. Apparently, when he looked down at the logo when wearing the shirt, it looked like a W. It must be something to do with the education system in Ireland, where Brian was brought up.
Anyway, with Ian Rush joining Eric Harrison as the Wales coaches in August, I fully expect us to get the better of Geoff Hurst's England team and Kenny Dalgleish's Scots.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Wales - A Nation State?

Interesting article by Martin Shipton in the Western Mail today. Martin's been talking to Dr John Davies of Aberystwyth who has written a 20,000 update for a new edition of his aclaimed book, A History of Wales. John seems to think Wales is well on the way to becoming a 'Nation State' - whatever that means. I'm not sure that I know what a 'Nation State' is. It seems to me that , like 'independence' and 'sovereignty', 'nation state-hood' is another divisible concept.

There can be no doubt that the development of Wales as a distinct 'nation' has moved on a lot during my lifetime. I have always been comfortable with this and I am proud of the part that the Conservative Party has played in this. Many people see this process as being essentially cultural - S4C (sorry S4/C), the Language Act, the curriculum changes, etc.. This is partly true. But its been a lot more than that. Throughout the 1980s I was much involved in the Welsh Development Agency, the Wales Tourist Board and the Development Board for Rural Wales. There has been much discussion about how democratic these bodies were - but no-one can argue that they didn't play a huge part in developing a seperate Welsh brand (which in this context is another word for nationhood). International recognition was a fundamental objective of all three of these bodies.

There is an international trend towards devolving power (a key part of nationhood) to smaller units. Just look at the changing membership of the UN since the end of empires. I believe this trend towards distinctive 'nationhood' will carry on in Wales. And there is nothing inherently un-Conservative about this. Regioal distictiveness and freedom for minorities to live as they want are strong Conservative principles. I do think my party managed to manouvre itself onto the wrong side of some important debates over the recent decades. I truely believe we have made a big change since the Assembly was created, It is indeed ironic that so many of my party in 1997 worked so very hard to prevent us finding our Welsh destiny.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Paying for the BNP.

Matt Withers has a good piece in today's Wales on Sunday about the availability of public funding for the BNP. I know that Peter Black has posted on Matt's article already - so I want to post before reading Peter's. It will be interesting (to me anyway) if we agree - or don't.

Like most people, I find the politics of the BNP distasteful - and its a frequent discussion point where I live because the Party's leader, Nick Griffin lives close by. I also, instinctively agree with the sentiments attributed to Plaid Cymru AM, Dai Lloyd in Matt's article. However, I wouldn't have been as vitriolic in my condemnation. Whenever I comment about the BNP nowadays, I ask myself "How do I minimise its support". And nothing would galvanise support more than giving the BNP the opportunity to campaign on an 'unfairness in the electoral system' platform. I remember, a few years ago, when the New Statesman printed an article describing my home town, Welshpool, as a hotbed of racism. I accused the magazine of telling lies and was pleased when I forced a public apology from the editor. Peter Wilby reckoned the article had been 'allegorical' - another word for lies. But I refused to become involved in a protest rally by the Anti Nazi League in Welshpool at the time because of the huge publicity it would give (and did give) to the BNP.

I have exactly the same approach towards the comments of Dominic MacAskill, regional organiser for Unison. If postal workers refused to distribute the BNPs election material, I cannot think of a better recruitment strategy for Nick Griffin's party.

So, I would not ban funding to the BNP on the same basis as other parties. This issue highlights one of the strongest arguments against State funding of political parties. I believe that most of us wish the BNP didn't exist - but it does. We must try to ensure it isn't given opportunities to play the 'victim card' which will almost certainly strengthen it

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Surely not Mandelson!!

For months, I've been flogging what has seemed like a dead horse called 'Rainbow Coalition'. In some quarters, I'm dismissed as a fantacist. But what drives me is a lifetime of watching the Labour Party dominate Welsh politics. How can anyone even think about propping them up in power after next May. For how long is Welsh politics going to be weighed down under the yoke of 'One Party Rule'. And I'm directing this question at fellow AMs, Peter Black, Kirsty Williams, Rhodri Glyn Thomas, Leanne Wood, Dai Lloyd, Janet Ryder, Helen Mary Jones and any of the other rabid anti-Tories. The thought of a 'Rainbow Coalition' does not appeal to me either - but its a lot better than the alternative.

Anyway , my point today is that this sort of approach is as nothing to what is going on at Westminster, if Peter Oborne in the Daily Mail is to believed.

Most fascinating of all is the evolving connection between David Cameron and Peter Mandelson, European Commissioner and the architect of New Labour. Cameron has met Mandelson twice in the past two months, once for a long private meeting in Brussels and then for a brief but cheerful chat at the Davos World Economic Forum.

Relations are more than professionally cordial: they are warm and friendly. I have heard reliable accounts of Mandelson's table talk from Brussels on the subject of the Tory leader.

Although distressed by Cameron's obstinate Euroscepticism, the Commissioner is otherwise emphatic in his approval, comparing him to the young Tony Blair of 11 or 12 years ago when Labour was in opposition.

Now, as for Cameron's other targets (according to Oborne, who is usually well informed) David Laws or anyone else from the Vince Cable school of Lib Demary, I could accept. Even David Owen, Lord Split himself would be ok. But Peter Mandelson? Surely not! Who next? Livingston, Opik, Polly Toynbee? Surely, Oborne had been on the sherberts when he wrote that piece. What I've been suggesting in Wales is no more than a 'tad controversial' compared with the 'revolution' a Mandelson defection would represent. We do live in interesting times.

A Good Question

A letter from Malcolm Allsop in today's Telegraph asks

I wonder how manyof the schools that closed their doors this week because of the snow will be sending pupils on a ski trip this year?

Back to the Drawing Board

It wasn't so much that we lost. I'd expected that. The Scots were at home and were bound to be really up for it. Even the margin of defeat was about what I expected - even if the scores were lower. But, in reality, we were totally hammered. It could have been anything. So little ball and so many mistakes. Gareth Jenkins won't sleep tonight - because there are no obvious answers. Its all very well for the armchair brigade talk about 'going back to basics' to win more ball. The truth is that the only way we can win is through the quick ball and quality 'off-loads' that put pace on the game. If we stop doing that, we won't beat anyone. I thought Mark Jones, Dwayne Peel and Martin Williams played well though - in difficult circumstances.

The only consolation was that England weren't much better. For the second week in a row, they benefited from a dodgy try - and they had so much of the 'run of the ball' that Gerry Guscott was right when he said it was like watching the reffing when Man U are at Old Trafford. It really wouldn't surprise me if we lose to Italy and beat England. Actually, I'd take that - and call it a satisfactory season! But the 'wooden spoon' looks a real possibility now. Oh Dear, what pain it is to be a rugby fan.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Hewitt off form.

Best Government Minister joke of the day. Patricia Hewitt is reported to have said in today's Telegraph that "Bed closures are a healthy sign for the NHS". Its a bit like saying that a Bird Flu pandemic would be good news for climate change policy!

Matt on form

Best weather joke I've seen. In today's Telegraph Matt said that the Climate Change Research Centre was closed due to heavy sarcasm.

Keep on Blogging, Bethan

I hope to get to know Bethan Jenkins next May. She seems certain to be elected to the National Assembly. I will either meet her in the Senedd, or when I'm clearing out my office! I rather like her style.

I didn't see Dragon's Eye last night. I'm told it picked on future Plaid AM, Bethan with gratuitous cruelty. I have four reasons for objecting to what happened, the first of which will infuriate her and the likes of Leanne Wood, Helen Mary etc. But I am a safe distance and the snow is too deep for anyone to get to me!

Firstly, what I'm told the programme did smacks of a big powerful media 'wolf' picking on an inexperienced, enthusiastic young lady politician - still on the first rung of politics. Why don't they pick on someone their own size. Its only Brynle and I who still think like this. We would expect to open doors for her as well! Anyway, I'm sure she can look after herself.

Secondly, she is a fellow blogger. I feel a bit of 'esprit de corps' coursing through my veins. As the political blogosphere expands, so does the 'blogtrawloshere' expand as it searches for 'gaffes'. This can lead to early blogger retirement or extreme 'tediumitis'. I hope it doesn't put Bethan off.

Thirdly, Bethan should be praised for having an opinion - even if its daft. We all have some of those. Apparently she is in favour of something called 'Independence', a word which is deemed unspeakable within Plaid Cymru circles at present. 'Independence' is a really interesting subject because in today's world I don't think it exists in a pure form - not even in North Korea. Like 'Sovereignty' it is a divisable concept. Clearly Bethan thinks there should be more 'Independence' for Wales. Well, I agree with that in the sense that I support the Scottish model of devolved government applying in Wales as well. Its just a question of degree. At present, most Plaid members, most Lib Dem members and an increasing number of Tories are calling for the same thing - a referendum on the Scottish model in 2011. We just have different ways of saying the same thing. I just hope Bethan doesn't resort to churning out anodyne 'spindoctorspeak' stripped bare of any real opinion for fear of offending her Party's thought police'.

And finally, I sympathise if party bosses banned Bethan from appearing on Dragon's Eye herself, which has been implied. This is becoming standard practice - and I don't like it at all. It nearly always backfires because there is usually someone less appropriate who appears anyway. And it looks as if there is something to hide. Labour are the worst. I appeared on a Welsh Language panel programme last night and a subject of discussion was how Labour are just refusing to appear on the media at all, except for 'soft' interviews.

So keep on blogging Bethan. Keep on saying what you believe and please don't become a boring human party press release.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Bruiser Davis on target over ID Cards

I am a great fan of David Davis, the Shadow Home Secretary. He is absolutely my sort of Tory - clear thinking and doesn't mince his words. When he was asked whether he supported David Cameron's 'Hug a Hoodie' campaign, he said "Yes, except that I would hug them a bit harder". Quite. Well today it was the turn of the IT industry which had been rubbing its hands in anticipation of the mega-millions that would flow into its coffers from the Government's madcap, illiberal, 'Big Brother' idea of a national ID Card Scheme. Yesterday, the Tories said they would scrap it. For the IT industry, it was losing a winning lottery ticket. So they launched into David by means of an open letter. They were lucky they didn't try it face-to face. Here's a copy of his response.

"I have received your letter of 6th February. Your claim to be "neither for, nor against the policy of introducing ID cards in the UK", given the clear commercial interest of a number of your members, is simply disingenuous. Your dismissal of the serious objections of principle we have to ID cards as point-scoring demonstrates a failure to appreciate either the parameters of the public debate on ID cards or the depth of opposition.

I am afraid that your claim that an honest assertion of our intentions is somehow indicative of a general commercial bad faith is both incredible and insulting.

Your thinly veiled threat of penalty clauses, at taxpayer's expense, is inappropriate and ill-judged. As the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has frequently recommended - certainly since my chairmanship - large IT projects should be segmented into several contractual phases to protect against the risks involved. I attach a copy of the PAC's 1999 Report, 'Improving the Delivery of Government IT Projects', which you might benefit from reading.

We are already fully engaged with the IT sector on these issues - and in my previous role as PAC chairman I was only too familiar with the IT sector's successes and failures in delivery of public services. You may be sure that we will have learned from those experiences."

Wow. Its great having a really nice man as Leader of our Party - but its also great to have a man who won't take any messing in the engine room.

This week in the Assembly

NHS reconfiguration. Avian Influenza. Police budgets. All very important issues on this week's Agenda. But the most significant issue (in terms of impact) was a debate on Welsh football. It might only have been to note a Report by the 'Culture' Committee on 'Football in Wales' but the opening speech by Committee Chair, Rosemary Butler was delivered in a quiet, reasoned tone, which I thought was the most powerful Committee Report presentation that I have heard in the Assembly. Its gist was a total condemnation of the Football Association of Wales.

How on earth did we get to this position. Football is Wales' leading game in terms of spectators and participants. The FAW have a hugely important role. I have always had a great interest in football. I played for a few local teams until my early 20s - but then discovered that my personal creed of 'justified retaliation' was not acceptable to referees. After being sent off two games in succession, I went to play rugby for Shrewsbury around the Midlands and the North of England (there being no teams in mid Wales at the time). My 'first' game is now rugby but I remain deeply interested in football as well.

The root of the problem seems to be that the FAW consider themselves to be beyond questioning. Well they are not, and they are going to find out that they are not. Football is important - but 'Government' is more important. When the FAW stuck two fingers up to the 'Culture' Committee, and said "We are not giving evidence" it was a big mistake. After May, The Assembly will have the power to 'require' the FAW to appear before a committee - and they will have no choice but turn up. And quite right too. Who do they think they are? Even their supporters (which include me) were outraged.

This is all so utterly stupid. What should happen is dialogue between the FAW, who run the game, The National Assembly, The Sports Council and the clubs. At the moment, all sorts of accusations are made (and not rebutted) - because there is no dialogue. Clubs tell me, openly, that they have no confidence in David Collins, Chief Executive of the FAW, because they think he only cares about greasing up to UEFA so that he can be promoted to become a member. I don't know what truth there is in this, but it should be tackled head on. It shouldn't be allowed to fester. The once I met David I found him easy to talk to. He needs to try talking to a few others as well - including Rosemary Butler. Otherwise, Welsh football will be a big loser.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Rhodri comes off the fence for Brown.

Just left the Chamber to find the First Minister in his room in deep discussion with two brownies from Caerphilly, including a 'sixer' - a senior position in 'brownie's world'. I immediately ask myself what this can mean. There was an army of camaras - so it was clearly some sort of stunt.

Since the two brownies were from Caerphilly, it could easily be a response to the announcement by Ron Davies this week that he intends to stand in May's Assembly election as an 'Independent' in Caerphilly'. Saving Jeff Cuthburt' is now a Government priority. Caerphilly now joins Wrexham and Blaenau Gwent as 'Old Labour' fighting back.

But I prefer the interpretation that this was another way of Rhodri Morgan showing his support for Gordon Brown. We have long suspected that Rhodri is a 'Brownite' and what better way to indicate this to voters than by association with 'brownies'. Rhodri has always moved in mysterious ways.

I have to say that the young 'sixer' looked entirely at home in the heart of Government - and looked totally relaxed when facing the TV cameras. A budding politician to watch in 15 years time.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007


Not everyone likes the smell of garlic. But I do. Not on people's breath of course - particularly next day. As driving down from Montgomeryshire to Cardiff tonight, the smell hanging over Brecon created an image in my mind of a late night French barbeque in the garlic season. It must have been the still cold night but the output emanating from the Beacon Foods factory on the outskirts of the town has never smelt stronger. Anyway, it has put the power of smell in my mind - and particularly its power to offput.

I still remember the foul smell when I had to empty all the poultry manure pits when I was a lad on the family farm. I felt sick dealing with the first slurry tanker load, but after a while I became used to it and didn't notice it at all. But everybody else did. The worst of it was that, no matter how much I scrubbed myself, I stank of chicken s*** all night. I was still a virgin til we sold the chickens. If we hadn't given up the poultry, I would probably still be a single man, without any friends.

And then, when I played rugby for Welshpool, in the twilight of my career, our hooker, Steve Pastfield, used to run a commercial pig unit. His fetid ambiance was worth 6 points a game - more if he came straight from the piggery. You could almost see the stink rising from the scrum and we hugely enjoyed the outraged groans of the opposition. Our props were used to it of course. We were nothing like so successful if Steve was on his week off. It never seemed to do him any harm but, surprisingly, he didn't grow very big.

Which brings me to municipal incinerators. Whenever an incinerator is proposed by a waste disposal authority, there is immediate outrage about the anticipated smell. So I went to Vienna to find out, where all the city's rubbish is burned in city centre incinerators, which also provide hot water for all the public housing. I have posted about the amazing Spittilau incinerator before, but there was absolutely no smell at all. The truth is, it smelt rather nicer than Brecon did tonight - and Brecon is one of the nicest places in the world to live.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

So Near.

If only Regan King was a Welshman. Even so, we should have been well away by half-time - despite the bloody awful start. And that was just after Jonathon had described Stephen Jones as a safe pair of hands. Short of pace on the outside. Mark Jones and Shane Williams would have made a difference. But it was still a great game to watch.

The referee must have been a descendent of the O'Kellys. He let two blatant Irish yellow card offences pass - and then completely ignored an equally blatant off-the-ball tackle that should have been a penalty try to Wales. No-one knows how to play a ref who 'bottles' big decisions better than Simon Easterby. But even in defeat, I enjoyed the game - until BBC commentator, Keith Wood said that the 'big three' had come through the weekend with victories. England put together one half decent performance against a Scotland side which hardly turned up - and they're world beaters again. And 7 of Englands points came from a supposed 'try' that everyone except the video ref could see was no such thing. Even Brian Moore, about as pro-England as you can get, was outraged by such injustice. Keith has been in the media world too long.

Didn't see Rhodri Morgan there. Perhaps he was still up in London schmoosing the London media, hoping for more favourable coverage during the Assembly election campaign. But we did see Bertie Ahearne there sitting next to Peter Hain, the man who has so blatantly tried to fix the result of the next Assembly election by altering the voting system in Wales. When you want him to fix the result of something, he doesn't deliver.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Johnny Stars and Bird Flu Arrives

Two dominating issues today. Firstly, we Welsh have to face the reality that Johnny Wilkinson is a true sporting hero. Watched the game and just wished he was Welsh - while taking nothing away from the dependable Stephen Jones. Bearing in mind what he has gone through, Johnny was just bloody brilliant today. But I have to say that Scotland were very poor - totally without any obvious game plan, other than to keep the margin of defeat down. I hope that the boy, Hook can do the same for us tomorrow - but I have to admit, my money is on the Irish. I am a huge fan of Brian O'Driscoll.

The other big issue today's has been bird flu. This is really serious. Not a great shock because it has looked inevitable that it would arrive at some stage. But today, H5N1 arrived in the UK for the first time (the whooper swan in Celladyke was a migrant bird). This is very bad news for the poultry industry. The Assembly Government will have no choice but to prepare for some tough decisions about housing free range flocks etc. I expect a Ministerial Statement on Tuesday. We are unlikely to find out how the virus came in - but it has come in. We all hope that it can be isolated and that it doesn't spread - but I fear that it will.

There is only miniscule threat to human health yet - and there won't be unless and until the virus mutates into a form which can be transmitted from human to human. What today has shown us is the scale of death that bird flu can inflict if H5N1 does mutate. It is terrifying. The scale of death amongst turkeys in Suffolk could become the scale of death amongst humans.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Proof of Climate Change

The big story today is the Report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which announces that Global Climate Change is a reality and the human race is very likely to be the cause of it. I know because it is only the 2nd of February and my wife had to cut all of our lawns today - several weeks earlier than normal. What more proof do we need.

Should Taxpayers Pay For Political Parties?

Did an item for Sunday's 'Politics Show' on state funding of political parties today. I teamed up with Plaid Cymru's Helen Mary Jones. The idea was that we waylaid innocent members of the public who were just out for a stroll in Cardiff Bay - and then set about persuading them that part of their taxes should be used to fund political parties. Don't know why they asked us - but the Beeb said it was because we are two of the most 'persuasive' AMs. Anyway, here's a taste of the sales patter (at least my interpretation) - which turned out to be remarkably successful.

"We're upset that all you voters think we are a self-interested bunch of shysters who have our noses in the trough because of all the Blair/Levy shenanegins about 'Loans for Peerages' All these arrests are giving us all a bad name - even those of us who are as straight as a nail. So we want to stop any individual or organisation (especially a filthy rich steel magnate or a trade union, for example) giving zillions to a political party, by capping donations at say £50,000. We want to stop it appearing as if anyone is buying influence. And we want to ban these secret loans as well. Now this will probably mean that none of us will be able to afford to clutter up the countryside with those massive tasteless posters at election time or buy boring advertising space in national newspapers. And just to make sure, we want to put a cap on how much a political party can spend on an election, at a much lower level than now. But of course, we cannot function as political patries without a certain level of finance - so we think the state should give our parties some taxpayer's money (just a little bit!). Now we are not suggesting that this should be wasted on anything frivolous, but should be confined to things like policy forums or IT or worthy things - and the money should have to be approved by some independent body like the Electoral Commission. If you are willing to give us a bit of your money, it will remove the temptation for any of our parties to stoop to suspect practices. Please."

Now, believe it or believe it not, all but two agreed that state funding was a good idea, and one of these two thought that buying policy was so ingrained a political practise that we might as well just grin and bear it. In truth, Helen Mary and I didn't put it quite in these terms but we must have been pretty damn persuasive. I was expecting a much more negative response. I have to admit that I have some doubts about state funding myself. But simply discussing it with randomly selected members of the public has gone some way to persuading me that it would not be a bad idea. I still don't think the public would wear it, if it was put up as a serios proposition.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Andrew's Bid for the Labour Leadership

Remember 12.30 on 1st Feb. 2007. It was a decisive moment in Welsh political history. Let this moment in time be seared into your memory. It was when Andrew Davies transferred his loyalty from Rhodri Morgan to - guess who - Andrew himself! And it was about so much more as well.

The occasion was Questions to the 'Business' Minister, Andrew Davies. Andy surveyed the chamber, turned to face Plaid Cymru, and launched a full frontal attack, a blitzkrieg of withering insults and putdowns. He had even set up Leighton Andrews to prepare the ground with a question about the value of military jobs in Wales. (I always thought Andrew and Leighton were political enemies - but in politics, your enemy's enemy is your friend!). He also set up Irene James to ask another question so he could unload the second barrel as well.

Now, what does this little drama tell us? (and please hear me out). Firstly, that Labour's private polling has been telling them that Labour is hemorrhaging votes and that a coalition with Plaid Cymru will probably be the only way for Rhodri Morgan to limp on as First Minister after May. Such an arrangement would pave the way for Carwyn Jones to take over in 2009, when Rhodri retires. This scenario is anathema to Andrew Davies. Far better to go into opposition in May - and bye-bye Rhodri. And without the Plaid influence, its hello Andrew rather than Carwyn! A Labour recovery by 2011 - or even an earlier Rainbow Coalition collapse - and Bingo, Andy inherits the top job.

You should have seen their faces, the Plaid anti-Tories who have been clinging to the prospect of a coalition with Labour like a 'suckie blanket'. I don't know which upsets Rhodri Glyn, Dai Lloyd, Janet Ryder, Helen Mary etc the more, me throwing 'come hither' glances in their direction, or Andrew Davies showering them with the spittle of contempt and rejection.

At 12.30 today, we saw the first domino fall in a process which will lead to the Labour Party in Wales going into opposition. Andrew Davies has started his 'Mandalsonian fancy footwork dance'. The 'Rainbow Coalition' is back in the running.