Sunday, September 30, 2007

Conference Alternative

Most Conservative Candidates would have been heading to Blackpool this weekend. But I can't go until tomorrow. Today was the occasion of the High Sheriff of Powys' luncheon at the grand setting of Glansevern Hall in my village of Berriew. James Turner, the High Sheriff is a very good friend and the event was to raise money for Rekindle, a charity set up locally to help young people with mental illness to recover. I'm taking more of an interest in mental health, and decided that I couldn't miss it.

It was a really good event. Around 150 people there. Champagne and great food. And there was the inevitable auction. Our companions, Peter and Heather bought a week in an apartment in the French ski resort of Les Trois Vallees. There's room for 6 - and we were promptly invited. I'll have to check what the Parliamentary time table is for next March 8th -15th (just in case). Peter also bid for a House of Lords bottle of Scotch Whisky, donated by the wonderful Lord Hooson, a dear friend of mine. Unfortunately he wasn't concentrating and was actually bidding for a voucher from Hair and Beauty by James Salon in Shrewsbury. And then Roy on the next table paid over £200 for Dinner for Two at the House of Lords, donated by Lord Carlile, who used to be our closest neighbour. He announced, to much laughter, that he wanted to reach the House of Lords before I did. A hell of a lot of money for the privilege of cracking a joke! But so what. Its a good cause.

Anyway, if I'd gone to Blackpool, I would have attended the platform discussion between the Party Chairman and the Devolved Tory Leaders. I've just read on Iain Dale's Diary that Iain left the Conference Hall when this discussion started, describing it as "truly terrible". His judgement is pretty good so it seems that I had a lucky escape.

The Welsh Premier

Good article by Chris Wathan in the Wales on Sunday today about the potential of the Welsh Premier - and its failure to develop enough players who go on to play at a higher level. I suppose Lee Trundle and Steve Evans are the best examples so far.

This weekend, the top three clubs win again. Title holders and favorites TNS really threw down the gauntlet with a 3-0 away win at would-be challengers, Carmarthen. Llanelli won away 4-3 at Caernarfon, who are on a poor run. And Rhyl beat Airbus 2-1 at home. The table has a familiar look at the top end after this weekend's games.

In games at the bottom of the table, Caersws notched up another point after a draw with Bangor, while Newtown beat Neath 3-0. In other games Porthmadog lost 2-1 at home to Newi Cefn Druids, Connahs Quay drew 3-3 all with Welshpool, and Port Talbot beat Aberystwyth 2-1.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Stamp Duty Pain

Just been watching the late news on the BBC. Its bad enough having to listen to reports of Wales' defeat at the hands of Figi. But then Guto Harri came on with truly galling news from our Conference at Blackpool. It seems that we are going to abolish Stamp Duty on house sales up to £250,000 for first time buyers - assuming we form the next Government. Well all I can say is "B****r it". We've got a flat in Cardiff which we hope to sell - for about £270,000! Its a great policy though and I like it. I hope Guto has got this right.

I'm going up to Blackpool tomorrow where it seems we are in for the public presentation of a raft of exciting new policies. The Beeb was reporting tonight that we are going to propose significant changes to the tax system which promote marriage - controversial but pleasing to me. And I was also pleased to hear that we might be announcing an Airline Pollution Duty - which I think would be better received than a tax on individual passengers. And then there could be a firm promise to hold a referendum on the EU treaty that Gordon Brown tells us is not a treaty. And then we might hear some more about reducing the pain that Inheritance Tax inflicts on anyone who owns a half decent property. I all this comes to pass, I will find it difficult to understand if we don't storm ahead in the opinion polls next weekend. This is the stuff that will cause the Prime Minister to 'bottle out' of calling a snap General Election.

Blog Awards

Seems to be a plethora of blog awards and ranking lists of late - inspired by top blogger, Iain Dale. No 3 son, Tim has recently installed a system of Google Alerts, which informs me when this blog gets a mention - as well as when its 'slagged off' elsewhere in the blogosphere. It may be childish, but I have to admit that I'm always rather pleased when A View from Rural Wales makes it into the minor placings. But today, things moved on a bit. I read on the must-read blog of Peter Black, the possible Lib Dem challenger for Mike German's position as Leader in the Assembly, that he was 'flattered' to come 2nd on a list where this blog was placed first. Well actually, Peter's blog was placed 90th, while this blog was placed 78th in Iain Dale's top 500 blogs. It seems we were the first two blogs based in Wales. I'm not sure that being placed 78th on a list is just cause for celebration though!

One of the factors in assessing positions in these lists is traffic flows. And one of the ways to increase traffic is to be controversial- but since I ask myself each morning what I'm going to do that day to promote the Conservative Party cause, I cannot risk being too controversial. I've already had more that one warning from Cheryl Gillan, Shadow Secretary of State for Wales to watch what I post. She tells me that Gordon Brown's army of political advisors arewatching. I do try to be careful, but the problem is that I usually blog late in the evening, often after a glass or three of Sancerre. I have introduced a rule which requires that I read through each post as often as the number of units that I've consumed. So far, its proven to be a system that works tolerably well.

But I fear the awareness of the need for discipline has been ratcheted up. Last night, I shared dinner with 'The Chief'. This is the name that all Conservative MPs use to address the Rt. Hon. Patrick McLoughlin, their Chief Whip in the House of Commons. I wasn't sure whether to address him as Patrick (which might be seen as disrespectful) or as 'Chief' (which might be seen as presumptuous). I do hope that the climate of fear and menace which naturally envelopes the chief whip of every party hasn't inculcated this blog with a degree of anodyne-ness which in turn leads to such a collapse in traffic flow that I fail to retain my newly acquired eminence in the Welsh blogosphere.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Out for lunch

This post is for John Day, with whom I enjoyed lunch today - and about 30 others who suffer from Parkinson's Disease or are supporting volunteers. John is a reader of this blog and I promised that I would report on what was a very enjoyable event.

About a year ago, a very committed lady from Welshpool, Anne Smedley asked me, out of the blue, if I would accept an invitation to become President of the Montgomeryshire Branch of the Parkinson's Disease Society. I did not know why. Like most people, I know people who have suffered from this and other neurological conditions - but I knew next to nothing about them. I thought about whether I could be useful in any way - and decided to accept. I think I was attracted because its not a 'fashionable' charity and finds it difficult to raise funds and awareness - a bit like colorectol cancer, which is probably my main 'cause'. So today I joined the Montgomeryshire Branch's Annual Lunch. One of the striking things about Parkinson's Disease sufferers is that I have not heard any of them complain. They just seem to get on with dealing with the poor hand that has been dealt them.

Just at the moment, politics is never far away. I've just watched Nick Robinson on the BBC say he has changed his mind and now thinks that there really might be an election. It frightens me to even write this down. Today one lady told me that she intended to vote Conservative at the next election - which would probably cause her late husband to turn in his grave since it would be the first time any member of the family had ever done so! And I was sitting next to another lady who really could never vote Tory under any circumstances - but it didn't stop her giving me some good advice about what I should be doing! I have decided that if I do become an MP, I will become a champion of cause involving these neurological diseases and conditions.

Training my Eyebrows

I don't think we should lightly pass over the musings of Dr Andrew Clark, a psychologist at Bristol University who has been doing some research into flirting. He's discovered why 'cads' seem to pull what one rather uncouth friend of mine refers to as 'Top Totty'. Research has shown that they use facial gestures to mask the true caddishness of their natures. We who have honest faces and nothing to hide tend to be left just looking on enviously from the touchline.

However, it seems that women like all this facial 'movement' only if they are looking for what we might call a short term relationship - like one night! They see 'vigour and self confidence' which is great in the short term. They probably want 'obedience and subservience' when looking for a longer term relationship.

Now I've always reckoned that Mrs D is bound to come under the heading 'Top Totty' in anybody's language. So I've been thinking how I managed to pull it off all those years ago. It must have been something to do with the way I used to turn up to meet her after the match on a Saturday with my face split and bruised, eyebrows warped and nose out of line (I was always the 'enforcer', which every rugby team has). I must have been irresistible. And when the season came to an end all the twitching stopped and I looked like a good long term bet. Upon such things are such big personal decisions taken.

Tories for Wigan

I am so sorry. If I'd known I would never have done it. At the start of the season I tipped Wigan to be relegated. If only I'd known that Club Chairman, Dave Whelan was going to drop us a million to help fund our election campaign, I'd have tipped them for a European slot. I will take Mrs D to the Fat Duck for supper if Wigan manage to beat Man U in any game this season to make up for it.

This is really good news for us. Not so much the money (though I'm sure it will be useful) but David Whelan is a self-made Northern businessman who has never donated to a political party before who likes what he's hearing from David Cameron on law and order, a traditionally strong Tory issue. And the timing is terrific - just before our Conference. It's the sort of thing that encourages other people to take a serious look at us - and stop being fooled by this nonsense that Gordon Brown is the 'change' that voters want to see. Dave Whelan has put me in optimistic mood.

Countryside clutter

Still catching up on yesterday. Did a couple of interviews for the BBC about roadsigns, wearing my Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales hat. Used our local village of Berriew as an example of road sign pollution, or 'signusitis' which for some reason our press release called it.

Berriew is a beautiful little black and white village in the heart of Montgomeryshire. As you approach it (from all sides) there are huge garish signs telling you that there are going to be 30mph signs in 150 yds. Hideous and totally pointless. Then we have the 30mph signs themselves - which are fairly new to our village and which we all approve of, although they are unnecessarily garish. But underneath them, there are large bright blue signs telling you that you are entering a police speed check area. Well, of course you are - there are speed restriction signs there. Any fool would know that. These signs serve no function whatsoever. And as soon as you pass one of the 30mph signs, there is a sign 'directing' you to 'the Village Centre, which the Welsh translation reads as Town Centre. Berriew is too small to have a village centre. Its got to be the most superfluous sign ever erected. And all these signs are bilingual. If this carries on Berriew will soon look like Soho.

And the position is even worse in our built up areas. There are so many signs now that no-one bothers to read any of them. One sign you read - 10 signs and you ignore the lot. I've read about some research taking place in England where most of the signs have been removed. It seems that drivers are now concentrating rather more on their driving, instead of trying to make some sense of the myriad of signs, and the accident record is improving. So we can beautify our roads and make them safer at the same time. But will our legislators act. No, they'll just put up a new sign to warn about sign confusion.

Whatever happened to 'Myanmar'

A few years ago, The BBC dropped the name 'Burma' and started calling the country 'Myanmar'. I remember wondering where this new place called Myanmar was. And now that I've become used to using the new name, the Beeb has switched back to using 'Burma' again. There must be a reason for this. Perhaps someone will post a comment. I'm fascinated by this running story. A beautiful woman, daughter of the nation's Independence hero, and worshipped by millions behaves with a dignity and poise that puts politicians across the world to shame. Its a long running tragic story of a country reported to be stunningly beautiful, which has fallen into the hands of villains. Whenever I hear people tell me that they have no interest in politics, which has no impact on their lives, I think to myself that they need to spend a little time in a place like Myanmar - or Zimbabwe.

Answering Trudi's Call

Catching up. Too busy to blog yesterday. A conference, CPRW interviews, an hour's canvassing and finished up watching Welshpool bt Newtown 1-0 in a Welsh Premier Cup game with a late well taken goal by man-of-the-match, Chris Venables.

The Conference took the form of a Colorectal Cancer Study Day. It was held at the rather depressing venue of the Severn Hospice in Shrewsbury - and was for Shropshire GPs, radiographers, specialist nurses etc.. No votes for me there. My role was to give the 'Patient's Perspective' - or as Tracy said when she asked me to perform, "What it was like for you". Tracy has appeared on this site before. She works as a specialist stoma nurse for the Shrewsbury and Telford NHS Hospitals Trust. I look upon her as an angel.

I wanted to take in some of the presentations, including a research paper on 'genetics'. There is a slightly increased risk where there is a family history of bowel cancer. I hope our 4 children check out their internal drainage systems by colonoscopy every 5 years or so after they reach the age of 40. I'm not one to be consumed by health risk but screening for bowel cancer really makes sense. The reason - early detection usually leads to full recovery while late detection usually leads to an early death. Good enough reason? There's a 4 stage scale. The 5 year survival rate of those caught at Duke's Stage 1 (me) is 80%, at Duke's Stage 2 is 60 %, at Duke's Stage 3 is 30% and at Duke's Stage 4 is 5%. 16,000 people die of this disease every year, and I don't want any of our children to be one of them.

It was all pretty heavy stuff. So I lightened the mood a bit. I didn't lower things to the level of a speech to a stoma nurses Xmas Dinner (where absolutely anything goes) but since I was the last presenter, it seemed right to look on the cheerful side. Anyway, Trudi was pleased with me, and that's what really matters.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Severn Barrage Folly

Easiest way to avoid dealing with a really tricky problem is to pretend that there is some grand painless solution. Its an added bonus if it can be described as 'visionary'. Even better if it requires a few years of research before a final decision (which can come back to haunt) has to be taken. Step forward 'The Severn Barrage'.

The really tricky problem is the UK's long term energy supply. The current Government has simply refused to face up to the big decisions needed. The Government has piddled about pretending that wind power can make a significant difference. Almost no investment in tidal power. Not much more in clean coal technology. And it has refused to decide whether the UK has to build more nuclear power capacity - because it is a tough decision. Much as I dislike the idea of new nuclear generation capacity, I can no longr see any alternative. There is going to be one hell of a panic when the lights go out. Much easier to spend millions on researching whether a Severn Barrage is feasible.

Well, I don't like it. It could cause massive ecological damage. It would totally destroy the rural nature of the Vale of Glamorgan - converting it into a Greater Cardiff. It would result in an Assembly budget skewed even more than it is now towards SE Wales. Talk of a Severn Barrage is just a sideshow to avoid facing up to the nuclear question. OK, so I see that my party is supporting the feasibility research. So, I'll have to live with that. And as long as the result is not fixed in some way, I'd have to accept a 'positive' result. Problem for me is that I see a Labour Government which has published a Planning White Paper which proposes new mechanisms to virtually eliminate public consultation on major planning proposals. I see a Labour Government which is willing to fix things to get the result that they want. I really can see a British Government ignoring EU law, fixing the planning system, and being willing to spend mega billions on a white elephant, simply because it sounds good.

The Polluter Pays - unless your name is Gordon

The British livestock industry is reeling from the twin impacts of Blue Tongue and Foot and Mouth Disease. We are told that Blue Tongue has been visited upon Britain as a result of global warning allowing a certain kind of midge to migrate Northwards through Europe, and high winds which then blew these midges across the North Sea. We cannot reasonably blame the Government for that. But we can blame the Labour Government for giving us the current outbreak of FMD.

The virus probably escaped from the Government Research Institute at Pirbright. Disgracefully, our 'Oh so moral' Prime Minister tried to dump the blame onto the Government's private sector partner at Pirbright, Merial. But inquiries suggest that the virus escaped from defective infrastructure which was the Government's responsibility. This is probably the first time ever that a British Government has infected the herds and flocks of Britain with FMD.

Now, the movement restrictions imposed on British farmers (including yours truly) has led to some big financial losses. A few weeks ago our farming leaders were talking big about suing for compensation - at a time when they thought the polluter was a small US private sector business. Have they got the b***s to sue when it looks as if the Labour Government is the culprit. I think not.

The reason all this interests me today, is that I received a phone call this afternoon telling me that the Government is recruiting a team of lawyers which specialises in resisting compensation claims. Can this really be true? Can our British Government really have infected our farm stock with Foot and Mouth Disease, then tried to dump the blame on someone else, and finished up used taxpayer's money to pay for a team of lawyers to avoid paying compensation for its crime? All I can do is ask the question. So much for 'the moral compass' we were hearing so much about yesterday.

Monday, September 24, 2007

The Brown Whirlwind

We'd been warned to expect something special from the Prime Minister today. But I do think he was taking it a bit far by arranging to have 11 tornadoes wreak havoc across the South of England this morning. All Tony Blair could ever do was walk on water. Gordon just had to go one better.

I have to admit it though. He's my sort of speaker. It was my sort of speech - apart from its length. OK, so I should be rubbishing it as rehashing previous announcements - going on about how our new Prime Minister has got away with disassociating himself from the 10 years during which he personally dominated the British Government's domestic policy - banging on about where the beef is - lambasting the failure to give us the EU constitution referendum we were promised - decrying the absence of an apology for wrecking our pension system. But all this would miss the point. Gordon Brown made a serious speech without the nauseating Blairite thespianism that used to so sicken me and almost everyone else in the end.

But trust Neil Kinnock to completely destroy it all with his 'windbag' vulgarity. Tonight, he was all over our TV screens advising the Prime Minister how to deal with the Conservatives, "Grind the bastards into the dust", is what this over-rated vulgarian publicly advised. Thank God that the British people were sensible enough to draw back from making this man Prime Minister of our country.

But back to Brown. He is not a flamboyant speaker - that's good. No Blairite flourishes - that's good too. He hasn't got William Hague's wit and timing - but no-one else has either. But he does come over as a serious, committed resolute politician. He is the opposite of the lightweight, celebrity loving, publicity obsessed nonsense that we saw from Blair, and I see so much of here in Montgomeryshire. The gauntlet has been thrown down. Brown has said "Follow that". David Cameron has to deliver something special at Blackpool next week. I think he will. If he does and Brown funks the snap autumn election, David Cameron will take over as Prime Minister in the autumn of 2009.

The First Course

I thought I was going a bit three years ago, when I underwent eye surgery to remove a cataract at 2.00 in the afternoon at Shrewsbury Hospital before delivering a speech to Llanelli Conservatives at 7.30. But this is 'small beer' when compared with the 'out to dinner' breast augmentation operations being offered by a Texan surgeon called John Tebbetts. He is to outline details of his new procedure at the Annual Meeting of the Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons on Thursday.

According to Mr Tebbetts, both breasts can be enlarged in just 30 minutes - and 80% to 85% on the 'enhanced' women go out to dinner on the evening of the operation. He adds that there is no bruising and 'normal activities' can be resumed the following day - whatever that means. Isn't modern medicine amazing?

Sunday, September 23, 2007

So its Wigley for the Lords.

I think that today's Wales on Sunday relays some rather good news to us. There are not enough Welsh speaking Welsh people on the red benches. Lord Wigley of Wherever would be a real asset to the place. The great man has been out of representative politics for too long. Wales can't afford to waste such talent. He's got that air of self importance which makes him a natural. And Eleanor would make such a lovely Lady.

I do think Plaid Cymru have been a bunch of hypocrites over this issue though. I feel free to attack Plaid now that Nick Bourne and his 'Rottweiler' Hazlewood has started calling them 'lap dogs' - and generally taking the gloves off. And I approve of this as well. In politics there's nothing wrong with a bit of jousting between parties. After all I was the one who laid into Ieuan last December, calling him Wobbly Wyn Jones. I know that hurt him - mainly because it was true. Doesn't mean that I don't like him though. We rugby players are a bit like that - smashing your opposite number one minute and having a friendly beer the next.

But back to the hypocrisy. Dafydd is making out that he would go to the Lords only out of a sense of duty. He doesn't believe in the unelected constitution of the place - and rather laughably is laying down three conditions before he will consider an offer - conditions that he already knows will be met next month. Why doesn't he just say that he wants to be back in politics and wants to don the ermine to get there. He's obviously gagging for a seat on the red benches - and why not. I'd eat rat meat if it would make me Lord Davies of Montgomeryshire - at least I would have done before I decided to stand for the Commons. Surely Dafydd's not that afraid of Bethan Jenkins! I was pleased to read that he's also thinking of standing for the Assembly in 2011. If I don't manage to become MP for Montgomeryshire at the General, I might just put my name in hat again myself. Neither of us is anywhere near as old as Gareth Jones, who was elected last May.

The Welsh Premier

From my Mid Wales eyrie, the performance of the weekend was the point that Caersws took at Llanelli - which leaves us asking, with renewed hope, if the 'Bluebirds' can recover. The disaster of the weekend was Welshpool going down 3-0 at home to Porthmadog.

TNS continued their recovery with a 5th straight win, this time 3-0 over Connah's Quay and together with Rhyl, who drew 1-1 at Haverfordwest are making the league look a bit like 'business as usual'. Eaglestone must be gnashing his teeth after Caernarfon lost their unbeaten home record to Neath.

Best of the rest has to be Carmarthen who beat Airbus away 1-0 to go second in the table. Aberystwyth beat Bangor 2-1, which continues the latter's poor start to the season. Port Talbot put 5 past Newi Cefn Druids and Llangefni carried on pointless, giving Newtown a valuable 3 points. I'm told that Llangefni played well and deserved a point. But thats the way things go when you're down.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Big Beast in Town

I hadn't met Ken Clarke properly until yesterday. Our former Chancellor came to Montgomeryshire to support my election campaign. The great man was everything I expected him to be. First port of call was the home of ex-MP, Robert Harvey, near Meifod, where a few of Ken's old friends met for a drink - including Lord Gowrie and Delwyn Williams, the former Conservative MP who represented Montgomeryshire between 1979 and 1983.

Delwyn's Wife, Olive was with him - and she launched into me like a tigress. It seems that before the 1983 election I had referred to Delwyn as a 'hanger' in public, and signed the nomination papers for an independent candidate, David Rowlands. She seemed to be blaming me for Delwyn's defeat. I really have no recollection whatsoever of the 'hanger' comment - but would have thought it to be an electoral positive, even if I had said it. Never been a 'hanger' myself, but always accepted that the majority of the public are. Olive was correct about my signing David's papers though. He was my closest colleague on the Montgomeryshire District Council at the time, and I couldn't have refused without causing offence. Can't believe it made the slightest difference to the result though. David only got about 400 votes. Anyway, Olive let fly and I took it on the chin. Delwyn was in his usual convivial form.

Next stop was the Derwen Farm Shop, where we met Rachel Joseph who owns and runs the business. Wholly non political visit to promote local food. Enjoyed some of Rachel's goat's cheese fudge, which I strongly recommend.

Next stop was the birdwatching hide at Coed-y-Dinas where we met Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust's Clive Faulkener who outlined the recent avian traffic. It soon became clear to me that Ken is a genuine authority on ornithology. I could see that Clive was impressed.

Last stop was Welshpool Town Hall, where almost 100 people had turned up to hear Ken speak. I was chairing. Ken told me he would speak for 20 minutes - but didn't draw breath for 45. He is a brilliant speaker - and made sense of the Northern Rock crisis for the audience. He had driven up from London in the afternoon and after spending time talking to everyone in the room drove himself home to Nottingham. Peter Cannon presented him with a Havana, which he said he was going to smoke on the road home - to help keep himself awake. Ken Clarke is a truly big beast.

Avoidable Trouble

David Davies, the Conservative MP for Monmouth and I do not agree about the future governance of Wales. We have never agreed about it. And quite a few of my other Conservative friends in SE Wales do not agree with my view that the National Assembly for Wales should have law making powers in devolved areas of responsibility. There are probably other things we don't agree about as well. But we have never fallen out about it - because we have respect for each other's point of view. I think that David Davies is a very effective Member of Parliament and represents a strong strand of opinion in the Conservative Party. I might disagree with him about some things but I know perfectly well that if I want the Conservative Party to adopt my opinions as official party policy, I have to argue my case, persuade and win a majority over to my way of thinking. That is how we do things in a democracy.

Now, I won't pretend that the major article by Martin Shipton in Friday's Western Mail was anything but a source of despair for me. Several people have asked me about it, knowing that I would be unhappy. It appeared to me to be an eruption of frustration from a man who has not been involved in policy development in an area where he is known to have strong opinion. We all know that David Davies is not a man willing to be ignored. He will have his say - one way or another. And he had his say last Friday in what Martin Shipton described as an "astonishing attack on Nick Bourne".

Because I like David Davies, I hope he won't make any astonishing attacks on me. He hasn't done so far. I like to think its because we acknowledge our disagreement - and more importantly respect each other's viewpoint. I also think the voters respect us as politicians more if we are honest about our opinions and don't just say exactly what we are told to. They certainly do not like reading articles like last Friday's. The governance of Wales is a developing situation - and it is entirely reasonable that there should be ongoing debate within political parties. Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned from what happened last week.

Big Investment Decision.

A major investment decision to be made. Glandon Lewis of Norman R Lloyd and Co rang me last night to inform me that I am to benefit from an unexpected financial windfall. I have decided that it should be invested in a way that will strengthen my campaign to be elected MP for Montgomeryshire. But how to do this for greatest effect is the challenge before me. I suppose I could just add it to the general campaign fund, but I do think it warrants something more special. At present my favoured idea is to use the total sum (for it is £25) to gift membership of the Conservative Party (which has just been raised to £25) to a prominent Liberal Democrat who wishes to 'defect'.

You might wonder why this princely sum is exercising me so much. Let me inform you. Llanfair Caereinion Show organise a big annual raffle, which this year sold over 12,000 tickets. I bought one of them. There were over 60 prizes, one of which was the gift of £25 from Mick Bates, Liberal Democrat AM for Montgomeryshire. Now you might calculate that the chance of my winning this particular prize was about as high as Lembit Opik winning Hello Magazine's 'Shy Violet of the Year' competition, or being hit by an asteroid. But win it I did. I'm only sorry that I'd left the showfield a few minutes before it was announced on the PA system. Glandon was still laughing when he rang me.

So dear readers, I am open to ideas. An early suggestion has been to donate the £25 to a home for retired harmonica players.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

What a load of old cobblers

My eyes have started to water. My knees are firmly locked together. I have just read an article in today's Telegraph about how men's testicles are going to be used to help fight diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. It seems that a team of scientists at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York believes that cells taken from these most precious of man's possessions could be used in place of more controversial embryonic stem cells. I would have thought that this new idea would itself be fairly controversial - especially for the prospective donors.

This team of scientists do seem to have something of a testicles obsession - and have already used rat's testicles to grow beating heart cells. This combination of removal and implantation has made me think about whether these experiments have already been used. Ask yourself this dear readers. Are there any groups in our society that lack the b***s to take tough decisions, and have rat-like loyalty in their hearts? I speak to you as a politician.

Tyddyn Llan

Mrs D and I like good restaurants. Our second son, Patrick and Verity live within walking distance of the village of Bray in Berkshire which is home to Britain's top eating house, The Fat Duck, and also eighth on the list, The Waterside. (I am pleased that Heston Blumenthal has knocked the foul mouthed Gordon Ramsey off top spot.) I did expect to have been to a few of the top 40 in Britain, and was surprised that we have only been to one in the 2008 Good Food Guide Top 40, Mr Underhill's at Ludlow. I suppose that the top restaurants do tend to come and go.

But there is no excuse for us not having been to Tyddyn Llan, near Corwen in North Wales, which is the only Welsh restaurant in the list. I have tried to book us in on at least two occasions, without success. It is clearly the place to go for any Welshman who wants to promote good eating in Wales. We should be doing more to encourage a higher standard of Welsh cuisine. It really is a poor do that we only provide one of the top forty.

Lost the War - Shoot the Infantry - Promote the Generals

I see that the Telegraph is predicting that the BBC intends to sack up to 25 of its staff after an internal inquiry into the rigging of phone-in competitions. Out go researchers and programme editors. In other words, the response to the scandal that has destroyed public confidence and trust in the integrity of BBC , and is much the worst cheating scandal ever to hit the Beeb, is to sack a few members of the poor bloody infantry. This response has of course been prepared and recommended by the generals, who plan to totally exonerate themselves from any responsibility. Since Government Ministers no longer accept that resignation is the appropriate response to scandal within their area of responsibility, it is only to be expected that BBC bosses believe they can get away with this.

Preparing for an October election.

More talk today about the possibility of a General Election next month. Could even be called next Thursday. Would stuff our Party Conference. Almost everyone I know in the party in Wales isn't expecting this to happen. All I can say is that October 25th is Brown's best chance of victory - so I'm working on the assumption that the 25th it will be. So we've been out in Montgomery leafleting tonight - so late to my keyboard again.

Canvassing does provide lessons about human nature. Tonight, three people went to the trouble of telling me how grateful they were for help I had given them during my years as an Assembly Member. All very satisfying. And then I approached one of the biggest houses in Montgomery. A smartly dressed middle aged man (whom I took to be the resident) was walking from his car towards the house, so I offered him my introductory leaflet rather than posting it. He looked at me as if I was some form of lesser being, read my leaflet without taking it, looked at me again with painful disdain, shook his head, and walked off without saying a word. In several years of canvassing this was the rudest response I have ever received - and that includes a man in 1997 who told me to "f*** off" and another man who chased me up his drive wearing just his Y-fronts and wielding a garden fork. It does take all sorts - and if you want to be a politician, you've got to be ready to accept this variety.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Coalition settling in.

I like to keep an eye on what is happening in Cardiff Bay, even if my focus has moved elsewhere for the time being. You never know - I might be back some day. I'll need to know what has been going on. A key question for us all this week is how the Labour/Plaid Cymru Coalition is panning out. I'm grateful to Andrew Davies and Lord Dafydd El for copying me in on the chatty little emails they've been sending each other in the Debating Chamber today. I'm not sure it was deliberate though.

It seems that Ieuan Wyn Jones, who has just replaced Andrew as the Minister responsible for economic matters was waxing lyrical about the Government's fabulously effective Statistics Department. This was too much for Andrew who remembers the sort of thing Ieuan was saying earlier in the year - when he was rubbishing them. Andrew's email to Lord Dafydd El read

"Perhaps we have a new Stats Dep't? Of course, I would argue that the stats have been good for some years now (and certainly improved since I became Economic Development Minister in 2002!) I do remember that the opposition parties didn't appear to accept the figures at the time whever I quoted them - at frequent intervals I might add. Time is a great healer, especially of perceptions."
The email finished with the rather plaintive observation "Funny things,memories!"

In typically jocular fashion Dafydd El responded "Its the stats apparently which are good. Must be your good work" to which the still smarting Andrew responded "I see that Wales has suddenly improved since the PoW became a part of the Government!!!"

I guess that PoW stands for Party of Wales - though one cannot be sure that Her Majesty has not awarded a principality to his Lordship in recognition of loyal service. I do hope that the new Coalition Government will carry on copying their chatty little emails to everyone so that we know how the new team is settling down. Since they seem to want everyone to read them, I just thought I'd publish them on my blog - which is going through a period of high visitor numbers.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Ten Years On

Ten years ago tonight, I was at the count in Llandrindod Wells after the referendum to decide if Wales was to have a National Assembly. I was one of ten representatives of the No side who had been nominated to ensure that there was no jiggery-pokery with the counting. During the campaign period, I had adopted a publicly neutral stance and had arranged a series of public meetings to outline what the vote was all about. Most people assumed that I wa a No man though. I'd set up the meetings with myself as the only speaker. There were some good turn-outs - usually dominated by opponents of devolution.

Anyway, it was a funny old night. To begin with, it looked like devolution was going down the pan - and then things improved for the Yes side - and then it turned against devolution again - before the Carmarthen result came through. The Yes supervisors (and all 10 were still there) stopped crying and started dancing with great joy and happiness. I was the only No person still there - and when the Yes team grabbed me in the general delirium, I just joined in. No point in missing a good party. Gwilym Fychan told me that he'd always suspected that I was a devolutionist - so there was no objection to me partaking of a celebratory tincture. Ironically, all the No team, except me, had gone home thinking that devolution had been defeated. Nasty wake up call for them all next morning.

As driving home about 5.00 in the morning, I knew that there was inevitably going to be a major change in the way Wales would be governed. There would be no going back. I also knew that what had been agreed was a hopeless compromise, and that eventually full law making powers in devolved areas would inevitably be granted. I still think the Assembly is a hopeless compromise and full law making powers are inevitable. Wouldn't it be a something really special for me (and the greatest of ironies) if a referendum to create such a 'Parliament' were to become official Conservative policy at the next General Election. I'd be a very happy candidate indeed.

The Python Squeeze

Don't know what they feed our cricket captains on - but it must be some damn good stuff. Remember Freddie, when he was vice - captain almost drowning when he went for a pedalo ride at 3 o'clock in the morning before a test match. And then there was Gatting who was caught doing some nets with a hotel waitress as his unique way of preparing for the next days exertions. Well now our latest skipper, Paul Collingwood is living down to the Botham/Warne standard of alternative big match preparation.

Our newest Twenty/20 Captain Collingwood decided to prepare for the big game against the Springboks last weekend by visiting a lap dancing club six hours before he led his team out to play the crucial game. I heard this story on 5 Live today, when it was reported that Collingwood has learned lessons from his experience - and had apologised for what he'd done. It wasn't made clear if he was apologising for going to the club, or for it being just six hours before the match. Perhaps ten hours before would have been OK.

Anyway, Collingwood must have still been thinking of the 'Python Squeeze' when he left his middle stump unprotected, and lost his wicket first ball. I have not the slightest doubt that Shane Warne would have smacked it for six in the same circumstances - even if he'd been calling at the ground on the way home from the club with an empty bottle in our hand and a pythonesque thong in the other. I wonder what Mrs Collingwood thought of this story. Don't suppose he'll score many in the next game either, if he has a text from her just before he goes out to bat.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Austin Walters 1930 - 2007

Brecon Cathedral is a beautiful edifice - even if scaffolding spoils the internal perspective at the moment. I was there this afternoon to give thanks for the life of Austin Walters, whom I liked but did not know that well. But I do know his feisty widow, Edna who is a really good friend. She has been a great supporter of mine for many years. It was also great to meet so many of the Brecon and Radnor Conservatives, of which Austin and Edna had always been such an important part. Of course funerals are inevitably sad occasions, but I do try to make them celebrations of life.

Jonathon Evans MEP, recently selected parliamentary candidate for Cardiff North was also there. We both talked to as many people as possible at the post funeral do. Jonathon really is a top man - and I hope his talent is quickly recognised by David Cameron when he transfers from Brussels to Westminster at the next election. B and R is an Association which deserves an infusion of enthusiasm. Big job for Suzy Davies. I want to help where I can.

It was worth going to listen to the Dean. He didn't mince his words. His comments after the reading of St Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians was blunt - even by my standards. This is St Paul's Letter that highlights the importance of 'love' as the basis which gives meaning to human emotion. "If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal." Clearly he had been deeply offended by the way Tony Blair had used St Paul's letter as a device to exhibit a contrived form of false love. Love should not be confused with public exhibitionism and sentimentality. Don't know whether anyone else noticed - but it had a big impact on me.

The last hymn was "Guide me, O thou great redeemer", one of the best hymns penned by William Williams of Pantycelyn. The Dean told us that Austin was a descendent of William Williams which made the hymn a bit special to all of us. We gave Austin a good send off.

Good Bye Mike German

It becomes increasingly clear to me that Mike German has learned to read the writing on the wall. I have no doubt that he is going to announce his retirement from the leadership of the Lib Dem Assembly group. The irony for me is that I have always thought Mike to be a very able man - even if unelectable. And I've never been absolutely sure why. All he needs now to finalise his decision to retire is the unwavering support of Lembit Opik.

This is very bad news for Eleanor Burnham and Peter Black (assuming Peter wants to be the leader - of which I am not convinced). If Mike stands down, it opens the door for the very capable Jenny Randerson and the 'Rainbow' killer, Kirsty Williams. Its very early days, and reading the Lib Dems is like betting on plastic duck racing - but I'm going to take a punt on Jenny. In the interests of fairness, I should add that we should be deeply grateful to the Lib Dems for allowing its membership the opportunity to express a view on the leadership of their party. Its rather old fashioned to be quite so democratic. Who knows - it may be catching.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

The Welsh Premier

Cream is starting to rise to the top. The New Saints continued their recovery from a poor start to record another victory - this time 2-1 over Port Talbot. Still not convincing though - which you cannot say about Llanelli, who continue to set the pace with another win - this time over Aberystwyth. And the other pre-season favourites, Rhyl took Caernatfon's unbeaten record. I can just hear Martin Eaglestone say 'b****r'.

Haverfordwest are right up there amognst them, following their 6-2 demolition of Connah's Quay - as are Welshpool after defeating Bangor City 2-0. Welshpool are building on last season's promise. I hope they get the European slot this season that they were so close to last year. My other local team, Newtown went down again, at home to Carmarthen. Things look sicker by the week for Caersws and Llangefni, following defeats at Newi Cefn Druids and Neath respectively. Both teams remain pointless, and desperately need a win to give them a chance of staying up. In the remaining game, Airbus scored a good victory over Porthmadog. No real surprises this week.

Bits and Pieces

Berriew is a very nice village. I am lucky to live there. Its not suffered much from the character-less housing growth that has desecrated so many villages in rural Wales. And it has several rather grand houses around and about. Glansevern Hall is one of them - and was lucky enough to have fallen into the ownership of Neville and Jenny Thomas some years ago. They have restored this fine house and gardens to a condition of some splendour. I seem to have spent much of this weekend there.

Saturday morning, I hosted a coffee morning at Glansevern, as President of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales. Not as many members came as I'd hoped. So it gave me the chance to have a proper chat with those that did. Found one couple that regularly read this blog. And another chap who wants to see a new bowling green built on top of a new supermarket in Newtown. And another who wants to stop any new houses being built in Welshpool. And another who asked me whether it was right that the CPRW President should be an parliamentary candidate - which is a rather good question. And another who wanted to talk to me about why I supported hunting, even though I've given up any personal involvement in field sports some 30 years ago. An interesting morning.

Today, I went to a party at Glansevern - the 25th birthday party of the Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust, which I have recently joined as a trustee. Full of old friends and new. There were TV stars there too. Iolo Williams for one - in his shorts. I was tempted to bid for a day out with Iolo on one of our reserves in the auction - which I knew would appeal to Mrs D. Iolo is a fine figure of a man. I think that I'm going to become more involved with the Trust.

And between these two pleasurable events I spent the morning at a meeting of target seat candidates at Llandrindod Wells. Received a shot across the bows about this blog. I suppose its fair enough. Party bosses always like to exercise as much control as possible over candidates - and blogs are a free spirit. I suppose I could just regurgitate centrally produced press releases - which would have the added benefit that nobody would read it. But I'm not going to. I'm hoping to win - even if I am going through a phase when the absurdity of party politics, cursed by its shameless opportunism and disconnection with the people is blurring my vision.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

A Contest made in Hell

I hear that things are hotting up in the contest to lead the Liberal Democrat Assembly group. I'm told that Eleanor Burnham has thrown her feathers and fur hat into the ring. I reckon that she might win. Lets look at the whole field of 6 possible runners.

1) Pre-May favourite, Kirsty Williams completely blew it when her not so surreptitious, behind the scenes shenanigans sunk the Rainbow Coalition last May.
2) Loyalty to Mike German will stop the able Jenny Randerson entering the race - unless Mike calls it a day of course.
3) Mick Bates has never shown the slightest interest.
4) Peter Black has said that he would go for it - but only to ensure that there is a contest. Well, we have a contest - so what now Peter.

Which leaves us with Mike German and Eleanor. Now this really would be a contest to savour. I wonder which one Lembit Opik is going to support. I'll probably put a tenner on the other.

Not quite there

Really thought we were in with a shout today. But no. The Australians, who Mrs D has taken to calling the 'Crims' were too just strong for us. It seems a touch disrespectful to me to call them the 'Crims' especially after the body check that Gareth Thomas visited upon their stand off early on. OK, so he needed softening up a bit, but Alfie should have gone to the bin for that. Good game though.

For the second week in a row, we didn't start playing until the second half - perhaps because the Australians eased off after the break, feeling that the game was won. Anyway, I feel rather encouraged. We've performed better than any other Northern hemisphere team. I can't see us getting the better of the Springboks though. Our only chance will be to play it tight for 10 minutes, just to settle us into things, and then just let it flow - the Welsh way.

Pleased to say that I've recovered from yesterday's very nasty affliction regarding the England team. The sympathy that mysteriously gripped my senses after Jason Robinson went off has evaporated, and I've really enjoyed reading about England's abject performance in today's papers. I hope we don't lose by more than 36.

UPDATE - Mrs D insists that she was only quoting an Australian based friend when referring to the Australians as 'crims'. I stand accused of not giving my full attention when she was speakinh. I'm rather pleased about this because I've always had a high regard for the Aussies - and consider Shane Warne to be the greatest living sportsman. And neither did I think 'crims' was that derogatory a word. After all, we Tories are called 'cons' all the time.

Friday, September 14, 2007

I knew already Iain

Not for the first time top blogger Iain Dale has been kind to me - at least I think he has. This time he has selected this blog as one of his top ten 'under-rated' blogs - "consistently high quality level of output which does not get the attention deserved". That sounds pretty good to me. The least I can do is comment on his piece in today's Telegraph.

Iain is absolutely right about Gordon Brown's intention being to destroy the Conservative Party. Actually, I think I knew that before he became Prime Minister. And I have to admit that he's set about his plan with real gusto. But I don't think he is going to succeed. His only chance would be if he were to call a General Election next month - which is his best chance of winning. Even then, I cannot see anything resembling 'destruction'. Anyway, it looks increasingly unlikely that he's got the b***s. In the same circumstances, Blair would have.

Iain seems to think that "the next four weeks will determine the course of politics for the foreseeable future". I don't think I agree with him - except that there being nothing much happening will be Brown's lost opportunity. Next year, we will begin to move ahead in the polls and Cameron will grow in stature. I am beginning to scent a real Tory revival.

Wales to win tomorrow

Not sure what's happening to me. Too much recent mental strain must have taken its toll. I have just been watching an England rugby team playing, and wanting them to score. I actually felt sorry for them as South Africa reduced them to a disorganised rabble tonight. One of the absolutes of my life drifted away on the wind. Next thing I'll be eulogising about the cuteness of the hated grey squirrel.

Now its on to tomorrow. And I really fancy Wales. The Australians have been whinging about having to play the game at the Millennium Stadium - which suggests that they are worried. And it seems that Larkin might not be playing. I can see a tight game, with Hook coming off the bench to cut clean through and put Mark Jones over in the corner - and then converting from the touchline. Rhodri Morgan was on the news tonight talking about "Fire in the belly and ice in the head". That's just how its going to be.

And I really want England to beat Samoa next week. Honest I do. Honest I do. Perhaps I'll return to good health tomorrow.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Missing the Assembly

I've now reached the stage where career reconstruction means that I only very occasionally miss being an Assembly Member. Today was such an occasion. I'd been invited to join the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds at their Wales Biodiversity Conference in North Wales for the afternoon. I was to chair a session on 'Agri-environment Schemes'

In the event, it turned out to be more 'seminar' than 'conference' with the RSPB's Head of Conservation Policy, Katie-Jo Luxton taking the lead, rather than me. There was a good mix of participants with a range of opinion. For me it was like transportation back to the Environment, Planning and Environment Committee that I chaired until last May. (and I had a coffee with Kath, the very talented lady who served as my committee clerk, when I was in Cardiff Bay yesterday to add to the poignancy). As I drove home from Wrexham, I really missed the freedom that I used to have to manipulate and control events.

If I was still an AM, I would use this blog to outline my thoughts on transforming Tir Mynnydd into an agri-environment scheme, on maximising environmental benefit through targeting Tir Gofal, on accommodating species recovery through greater flexibility in the application of Tir Gofal and on the need for robust monitoring of agri-environment schemes to provide evidence to justify budgets a few years down the road. Dear reader, you have had a lucky escape. But today did help me develop a sense of what I would want to do if I were to become a Member of Parliament.

The McCanns

The events surrounding the disappearance of Madelaine McCann have left me bewildered - as they have left Boris Johnson. At this stage, I simply refuse to believe that her parents can have had anything to do with it. If my confidence turns out to be misplaced, I think my faith in human nature will be severely damaged for ever. Usually, I try not to take an interest in this sort of story, where a personal tragedy involving an attractive person becomes a mechanism for selling newspapers - but for some reason the Madelaine McCann disappearance has got through to me. It may be irrational on my part because I don't personally know any of the players in this tragic tale - but I do so want to the Portuguese Police to say that that there is no evidence to implicate Madelaine's parents.

Ian Porterfield

Its one of those trivia questions to which I've always known the answer. "Who scored the goal for Sunderland that beat Leeds in the 1973 Cup Final?". Everyone who had the remotest interest in football at the time will remember it. It was Ian Porterfield, who died of bowel cancer on Tuesday aged 61.
In 1973 Leeds United, managed by Don Revie were probably the most boring and unpopular football team in Europe. Revie made Alex Ferguson look like the personification of joy. They were also the best team by a mile. Sunderland were in the second division and all the betting was about how many Leeds would score. It was the football equivalent of Ming Campbell winning the next General Election - but of course it wasn't because Ian Porterfield enabled his team to pull off the most unlikely of victories. Whenever, I saw him interviewed, Ian Porterfield seemed a thoroughly decent man.

So Ming wants to deal

So Ming Campbell wants to talk coalition with Labour and Tories (Telegraph p6 today). Well, I suppose that's an advance on just wanting to talk coalition with Gordon. This is an interesting development. He seems to have learned something from the total Horlicks that Mike German (with a little help from his colleagues) made in Wales last May. I wonder what AM, Peter Black makes of this. Perhaps he will play a similar role after the General Election as he played after the Assembly Election.

Personally, I think we should take this Ming talk seriously. I've heard a lot of sense being spoken by some of the Lib Dems on the sane wing of the Party - like Vince Cable, Ed Davey and Nick Clegg. And I hear a lot of sense being spoken by traditional Lib Dem supporters in Montgomeryshire as well. I often think many Lib Dems in Montg. have a lot more in common with me than their current representative.

There is a serious tactical point here. I noted the accompanying press comment when my party selected a candidate to contest a Lib Dem held seat elsewhere. Something along the lines of "already attacking the Lib Dems". Now this doesn't seem too smart to me. What I want is for those Montgomeryshire Lib Dem who have never voted Conservative in the past to consider voting for me - and they are not going to do that if I launch gratuitous attacks on them. Now you will understand the thinking behind the conciliatory tone of this post.

The Curse returns

Be warned that this is a partisan post. Only one issue on the mind of a countryman today - another confirmed case of Foot and Mouth Disease in Surrey. I remember watching Debby Reynolds, the Government's chief veterinary officer telling us last week that that the August outbreak of the disease was over, and thinking to myself that this was ridiculously complacent. I admit that I didn't disagree with the Government's decision to lift the movement of animals ban - but did disagree with the misplaced confidence and the casual message it sent out. I've lived through two devastating outbreaks - the '67 starting in Montgomeryshire, and the '01 which wiped out all the livestock around where I live. Gordon Brown was far too keen to want to look as if his personal intervention had soon sorted things. The truth is that the Government itself carries much of the responsibility for this outbreak because of its inadequate controls at Pirbright - and any eradication of the disease depends to a large extent on luck as well as strict controls. To be fair to the Prime Minister, he has done a very good job when compared with the utterly disgraceful performance of Tony Blair in 2001 - something for which the almost completely forgotten Mr Blair has not been sufficiently castigated.

Was interviewed on Good Morning Wales on this issue this morning and Bethan asked me if it was appropriate for David Cameron to 'play politics' with this issue. There is no-one being 'playful' about this. The Government has 'cocked-up' big time - its own agency leaked the disease for goodness sake. The Government has been too hasty in telling us that the outbreak was over - so that the Prime Minister could look capable. Its the main job of the Leader of the Opposition to point this out. After the 2001 outbreak, we saw the biggest cover-up in British animal health history when Blair refused to set up a public inquiry (disgracefully supported by my good friends in the farming unions at the time). Brown may be trying to create a one-party state. Its Cameron's job to stop him, and he's really starting to get the hang of it. Brown's got one chance of winning a General Election - and its next month. After that, he's toast - and wearing my partisan hat, "A damn good thing too".

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Our Green and Pleasant Land

Struggling for time to blog at present - mainly because of my committment to contesting the Montgomeryshire constituency at the next General Election. There si so much to be done. Campaign meeting this morning which prevented me attending a meeting of Campaign for ther Protection of Rural Wales (CPRW) trustees. Which brings me to an important full page report in yesterday's Telegraph about the disappearance of 'Unspoilt England' - which strongly featured the views of our big sister body, the CPRE.

I agree with the main thrust of what the CPRE are reported to be saying - but I do think it paints too great a Doomsday scenario. In general, I believe there is a danger in overplaying one's hand with these sort of comments. We've all seen these Al Gore type warnings of the end of civilisation as we know it - and a lot of us are suffering catastrophe fatigue. I'm particularly concerned that this report focussed on dubious long term threats which droned out the real message - which is that our Government intends to pervert the planning process to give itself almost unfettered power to approve large scale development without public consultation. A Planning White Paper has been published which is probably the greatest attack on the public's right to have a say on developments such as nuclear power stations and massive wind farm developments.

The CPRE are also quoted as calling for other totally unrealistic policies. For example, there is no way that we can stop airport expansion. More realistic would be acall for a switch in taxation to green taxes which encouraged more efficient and quieter aircraft. The biggest issue here is the one that we dare not talk about, which is keeping some control on the number of people living in Britain. If we carry on allowing millions more people to move into Britain, there will be no alternative to concreting over more of our green and pleasant land. Government makes its choice - and almost always takes the easy short-term option.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

And More Fun Today

I am really starting to enjoy this 'putting myself about' stuff. Following last night's Strictly Come Dancing, I went to a luncheon do in Four Crosses this afternoon, where there were another 200 people, all intent on having a good time as they raised money for the Macmillan Nurses. And again, I was struck by there being not one single person looking over my shoulder to catch the eye of someone more 'important'. I've been involved in politics for so long that I've forgotten how nice people not working at the politics/media interface can be.

I heard one punter make a £50 wager that I would win Montgomeryshire at the General Election. The downside of course is that there was another punter willing to risk £50 that I wouldn't. Trouble with this is that one family now has a financial interest in my losing!

I'd been agonising about how direct I should be in this sort of 'subtle' canvassing - and I've found that the easiest way to broach the subject is to ask something like "Do you reckon that I have any chance of winning?" It sort of invites the response "I hope so". It was all going rather well, especially when I took over the job of going around asking if anyone wanted to buy raffle tickets. Very subtle, I thought - and I was having a really good response. And then Eileen showed me how its done. She emerged from the kitchen with an exercise book with "PLEDGES TO SUPPORT GLYN IN THE GENERAL ELECTION" printed in big letters all over the cover - and started demanding that everyone sign up. And they did. I was staggered. Even the bloke who had wagered £50 on me to lose, signed up. If any of the pledgers have not voted by 2100 hours on election day, I fully expect them to receive a call from Eileen. It ain't subtle - but who is to say that she isn't right. If Churchill hadn't gone for 'Total War' in 1940, we'd be taking our orders from Berlin today.

Public Apology to Elaine

Yesterday, I participated in a Strictly Come Dancing competition. I must immediately apologise to my glamorous partner, Elaine Bates for the inadequacies that led to our failure to triumph. I must admit that I'd been dreading it, but it turned out to be a marvellously enjoyable night out for everyone involved.

The 'event' was organised to raise money for cancer research and the local Forden Church - and the inspiration behind it was a young man, who died of Colocrectal Cancer in his early 30's and with whom I'd spent some time sharing my personal experiences of the disease. I also know his parents, for whom the pain of Andy's death is unimaginable.

I readily admit that I approached the training sessions a touch too 'cocky'. Ballroom - no bother I thought, until I discovered it was the Valletta (?) followed by the St Bernard's Waltz (?). When the actual arrived, Elaine and I started off looking into each other's eyes, just like they do on TV, seeking to project some 'personal chemistry'. But I completely forgot which leg to start off. Immediate panic and don't think I caught Elaine's eye until after the session was over. Personal chemistry - nil points. Not a great start.

And then it was the folk. I was really worried here because I had to wear breeches (which looked ridiculous on my Banwy Valley legs - our dance coach's words). I was desperate not to be photographed. I'm trying to leave this sort of total pillock photography to my political opponent. The only problems that we men had was with a hand clapping routine - where if you used the wrong hand, it became a straightforward lunge for the lady's breast. It is entirely possible that I was guilty of what, under normal circumstances, would have been sexually harassing behavior - but the pressure was such that neither of us would have any idea if it happened! I thought we did OK.

And then it was the jive. Now, Mrs D and I are respectable exponents of the jive - and we have been known to clear the floor with everyone gathering around us - as happened with John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John in Grease. I think I've heard the word 'flamboyant' used. But this was an entirely new routine. The 'pull-through' was OK - but the 'Death Roll' was another matter entirely. In practise, I did have one nasty moment - which I regret to say was filmed (but I'm promised for local showing only). We were just completing the move when Elaine fell to the floor - with me on top of her (no other way of putting it). As we fell, the dance coach shouted out to Elaine "Don't open your legs". What the hell did she think I was going to do? What sort of animal did she think I was? Turned out she was just pointing out the defect that had led to the fall. Anyway I'm now a master of the Death Roll and Mrs D will be expected to add this little move to our routine. I think it will be introduced to the world at the Welshpool Golf Club Dinner in three weeks time. I don't think I should say much about the Disco Dance, except that my dignity was retained.

What I really liked about the night was that throughout the 5 hours before I left, there were over 200 people having a fantastic night out - and I didn't meet one single person looking over my shoulder to see if they could see someone else they wanted to talk to more. After several years in politics, this was a very new experience. Oh, and we raised £3,500-00.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Its only Public Money

Just heard a damn funny story. I've heard it twice now. First reaction was not to believe it. Surely the Chief Executive of Powys County Council hasn't 'wasted' over £30,000 of Council Taxpayers money - just to keep in the 'good books' of the Environment Agency. There must be some credible explanation for this.

I'll just post what I've been told. A good while past, the Council's Planning Authority refused permission for Mr and Mrs Trevor of Guilsfield to build over 40 houses near the village. The Trevors appealed and on the first day of the inquiry, the Council withdrew its opposition - which was a damned odd thing in itself. But the Environment Agency ploughed on with its objection. The Trevors won, hands down - and the Inspector awarded costs against the Environment Agency, including the Council's which have been conservatively estimated as 'over £30,000'. This is big money - and big embarrassment for the EA. Is it going to be big embarrassment for Mark Kerr as well.

Anyway, I'm told that the Council's Chief Executive has decided that the costs awarded to the Council will not be claimed - in order not to discomfort the Environment Agency. Now what on earth are Powys' hard pressed Council Taxpayers going to think of this - especially when they see their small rural schools being closed to save money. This has got the makings of an unholy punch-up at County Hall.

Now, how do I know this you might ask. Well, the Powys Council 'whistle blower' has been on the phone again. Don't suppose the Council's Press Officer is going to be too happy when he reads this post. The Council might even waste another £5,000 on a 'Whistle blower inquiry'. Time for FOI requests methinks. I wonder whether the Council will make any comment when the media ask about this today.

Back to the Treadmill

Last few days, I've embarked on a mission to be improve my fitness. There's no doubt that I've let things go a bit. I already given Mrs D due warning that the 6-pack is returning. I'm never going to be running across Wales again - or grinding out 2 hour victories over superior opponents on the squash court. And I've never sported the 'slick' look anyway - more Brian Moore than Gerry Guscott I regret to say. But it would be nice to step out feeling 'a bit of a kiddie' again,as Johnny Gosnall used to say.

And its a good thing that I started this life reappraisal 'stuff' last week because I see in the Telegraph that yesterday, the 6th September, was the unhealthiest day of the year. The reason this snippet caught my eye was the sheer, unreal innocence of the Telegraph in concluding that the reason so many remedies are sold on the 'Sickth' is that children, newly back at school are transmitting diseases to each other. This is about as fanciful as the 2-page spread in a Telegraph last week lauding Gordo as consensual, new, Prime Ministerial, etc.... it made my feel quite ill.

The real reason is that parents need medicines to recover from the stress of family holiday travel (first chance they've had), and the kids are pretending to be ill so that they don't have to return to school. It does look as if the dashing new body image is coming all wrapped up in a cloak of cynicism.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Hot Shot Willy

Regular readers of this blog will know about the damage that rabbits inflicted on our echinaceas this spring - amongst a series of destructive forays into our garden by the local wildlife. I sorted the deer out by forcing them to listen to Radio Cymru. But I was forced to resort to artillery to deal with the grey squirrels and rabbits - in the form of local marksman Willy Cooke. The command to shoot on sight was given several weeks ago. Nothing happened except that our echinaceas remained chewed off, a bit like Nick's fingernails. Until this morning.

Early hours, and I was midst a rather pleasant dream - which ended in an unexpected 'bang'. It was Willy, with his big gun. There followed a 'gang' of 'bangs'. The garden was a war zone. I just stuck my head under the pillow and hoped there was not too much collateral damage. I lay back in my bed, imaging autumnal echinaceas in all their glory.

My problem is that I'm a bit soft hearted about these things. The reason I recruited Hot Shot Willy was that I really don't like killing living creatures myself. Oh I know its hypocrisy. I'm just as guilty if I give the orders. Its just easier if I don't have to see the murder that is carried out in my name. But do you know what Hot Shot did. He lined up all the carcasses in a row on the drive - a bit like Smokey used to parade his dead mice around the sitting room. The message was "Look what I've succeeded in doing". Anyway, as we were breakfasting, there was a rabbit busily scratching a hole in the top lawn, no more than 10 yards from the window. Such bloody defiance. Its toughening me up. I hope tomorrow mornings dream ends with a 'bang' as well.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

When the going gets tough in Powys.

I hear on the Montgomeryshire 'grapevine' that several Powys councillors are having cold feet about their policy of closing small rural schools. I was showing the New Mills Women's Institute around our garden tonight when I had two calls informing me of a possible capitulation by councillors to public pressure.

A difficult issue for me. I instinctively oppose the Council's determination to close small rural schools, but I recognise that the Council is under a lot of financial and Assembly Government pressure to reduce surplus places - so I will not criticise Councillors who decide to ignore my protestations against closures, as long as I feel that they have given due consideration to our objections. Sometimes tough decisions have to be taken. I've been there myself. Up until now the Council has demonstrated a combination of determination and devious tactics (which I have condemned) to drive through its agreed closure programme. Until today, it seems.

I suppose there are Council elections coming up next May! Some councillors have felt the wind of voter power up their lower garments - and intend to buckle under pressure. I'm told that the Lib Dem Councillors could join up with some Independents to take decisions about closures away from the Board which runs the Council, returning it to the floor of the chamber. I can see an interesting row blowing up in Llandrindod Wells. It really will be interesting to see whether the Leader of the Council, Michael Jones stands up and leads.

What's Ancram up to?

The Fourteenth Marquis of Lothion, otherwise known as Michael Ancram is a fine Conservative. I know him. Despite the 'blue blood' there is not the slightest 'side to him. He is approachable, utterly dependable and a fine singer. I believe he has the broad personal appeal to make a wonderful 'Speaker' of the Commons. All of this makes his contribution to yesterday's Telegraph all the more surprising. I decided not to comment until today because I didn't want to be wheeled out to participate in a 'Tory row'.

Because of its timing, I don't think its credible to see this as anything but unhelpful. At the very least, Michael did not ask himself "What am I going to do today to help the Conservative Party win the next election". It would be different if he was selling his booklet 'Still a Conservative' rather than giving it away to anyone who wants to read it. (I hope he will send a copy to parliamentary candidates).

And there are Conservatives who will agree with his analysis, even if deploring his timing. I agree with much of it myself - except his discussion of 'sovereignty' as if it was some solid, clearly definable concept. Its not. Sovereignty is fluid and divisible. Michael has spent too much time trading in soundbites. Anyway, I think it worth repeating his description of what he sees as a Conservative.

"We believe in people, in their individual freedom and right to choose; we believe in promoting aspiration and merit; we believe in the smaller state, in value for taxpayer's money and in being the 'good neighbour'; we believe in the family; in protecting and conserving our environment; and above all in the resolute defence of our sovereignty and our realm." Apart from his incoherence about sovereignty, which the 'blue bloods' probably have implanted within their souls at the mother's breast, I'd sign up to all this. The Fourteenth Marquis of Lothian would make a fine Speaker though - and this piece could be (how shall I put this without causing trouble) an attempt to widen his appeal.

How could they?

One week ago today, I was hit by devastating news. The epitome of delicate Welsh fragrance, Sara Edwards was calling it a day after 20 years of presenting Wales Today. Never mind, I thought. Even legends don't go on forever - and Sara was quoted on the BBC press release which delivered this bombshell as having "been offered the opportunity to look ahead and develop other plans". It was a bit like when Monty, Archie and Smokey died. Time has come to move on. All for the best and all that.

But no. They sacked her. They bl**dy well sacked her. At least that's what Sara says. She told Wales on Sunday that "It all came like a bolt from the blue. I did not see it coming". The Beeb are not even arranging a leaving party. Sara is arranging her own - and the BBB bosses "won't be coming". How could they. This is the most heinous act in the Welsh media since S4C pulled the plug on Garddio. Its almost enough to make me join Adam Price in refusing to pay all of my licence fee.

If I was active on Facebook, I would start some sort of disapproval register. Come to think of it, this could be enough to get me started on Facebook again. Lucy Owen has really got something to live up to. It was reported that one worker at the BBC scrawled "We love you Sara" on the newsroom bulletin. Quite right too.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Overshadowed by Bow Wow

Really catching up - 5th post in an hour. Had been a really good weekend on the stump. Good support, sometimes from surprising sources, and a good bit of publicity in local papers - and then all my efforts are rendered as nothing by Bow Wow, the new name by which we know my political opponent Lembit Opik, MP for Montgomeryshire. I just couldn't believe it. Three full pages in today's Mail on Sunday. Stunning publicity. No surprise he was lording it around the fantastic Welsh Food Festival, held at Glansevern Hall at my village of Berriew this afternoon. You really should read this article. It will have brought great joy to so many. It would be a shame to be left out. Just in case you don't have time to read the whole thing, I will just highlight bits that caught my eye.

So often a headline tells the story. This one certainly does. It reads 'Bow Wow loves me, and I love Bow Wow'. Its seems that Bow Wow's future mother-in-law, Margit Irimia has been telling the MoS that her daughter Gabriela has been over to Romania for some corrective surgery after a 'boob job' which "left one facing to the left and one facing to the right". This sounds rather painful, and I duly sympathise. Anyway, Lembit went to visit with a "huge, extravagant" bouquet of flowers signed "Love from Bow Wow". It seems that 'Bow Wow' is now the preferred catchphrase - so who am I to argue. I think it could catch on.

I often call my wife 'Pet' - but it just doesn't have the same ring to it somehow. Which, of course is why Bow Wow gets three full pages in Britain's most widely read Sunday Newspaper - and I have to be satisfied with a few lines in the Montgomeryshire County Times and the Shropshire Star. It just isn't fair. I'm going to have to re-think my publicity strategy.

The ambitious Peter Black.

I am a fan of fellow blogger, Peter Black, the Lib Dem Assembly Member. OK, so he does sometimes have a tendency to re-write history - but I'll forgive this weakness as a natural desire to save his political party from meltdown. But I've never seen Peter as a 'leader' - until today that is. The Wales on Sunday has given us a really good story about the ambitious streak in Peter Black.

Its clear from today's report that Peter has real b***s, and is almost alone in the National Assembly in his willingness to challenge the stitched up leaderships that make the place so boringly predictable. I'd always thought that Kirsty Williams would be the one to depose the talented but hopelessly unelectable Mike German - until she allowed her ambition to get the better of her and decided to sink the Rainbow Coalition at that fateful meeting at Llandrindod Wells - and followed it up with a ludicrous interview for the BBC in which she looked as guilty as a burglar caught with fingers in the till. So, if Kirsty is damaged goods, and Jenny Randerson is too much of a Mike German acolyte, it falls to Peter Black to wield the knife. And he's done it today, with the calculated help of 'Butcher Bates'.

In my opinion, the Lib Dems would be mad not to back Peter against Mike, who deserves more time to spend with his piano. Arise Peter Black, Leader of the Liberal Democrats in the National Assembly. Unless.... No, it could never be. Not a ruse to destabilise Mike German, simply in order to lay out the groundwork for a Kirsty Williams resurrection. Ah, the delicious conjecture of politics.

The Welsh Premier

The cream is starting to rise to the top. TNS, who are no longer my clear favourites for the title celebrated their move to thier new stadium at Park Hall, Oswestry with a 6-0 thrashing of Caersws. Case of back on track. Llanelli chalked up another win, this time 1-0 over Newi Cefn Druids - and Rhyl another win over luckless Llangefni, who are finding the step-up to the Premier really tough going. Rhyl and Llanelli are now right up there with the champions in my betting. A real three horse race now. And Connahs Quay and Carnarfon kept their unbeaten records as well - but I'm still not convinced about that these two have got enough. The two teams most local to me had great wins, especially Welshpool, 3-2 at Aberystwyth. Newtown beat Pothmadog 4-2 with Marc Lloyd Williams notching up two more. Things are already looking bleak for Caersws and Llangefni. I really hope that the former can turn things around.

Just passing through.

Nothing I hate more than airports - which is why I avoid them whenever I can. I suppose I could claim to be 'green' because of this attitude. So I've enjoyed reading all this stuff about the horrors of Heathrow in a self congratulatory way. Which reminds me of remarks reportedly heard being proclaimed by a citizen of the US on finally reaching the check-in desk. "Ma'am, this airport is the ar**hole of the world" The check-in clerk is reported to have replied "and you'll be passing through sir".

Lurch to the Right.

Its 10.00 on Sunday night and I haven't posted since Wednesday. I should re-title this site as the 'London Bus Blog' - nothing for a few days and then 5 posts all at once. Truth is I've been coping with a complex personal issue and my mind just hasn't been up to it. But its sorted in my head now - and I've had a great weekend on the campaign trail. So been catching up on the blogosphere tonight - and been a bit taken aback by all this talk of Cameron 'lurching to the right'. Portillo has chipped in his pennyworth and somebody significant is reported to have resigned from something significant. Well, I have to observe that this is all rather silly.

Reason I'm interested in this is that for the last few weeks I, myself have been keen to talk about the supposed 'right wing' issues of Immigration, Crime and European Integration. And my reasoning has been that if I don't, there are other political parties in Montgomeryshire that will. Bruce Lawson of Ukip and Nick Griffin of the BNP are at all the local events I've been going to over the last few days. But I've also reasoned that I can only do this because I don't think anyone can, with credibility, accuse me of being an extreme right winger. And the same goes for David Cameron. I feel I have earned the right to talk about these subjects without being accused of following some extremist line - and I think David Cameron has earned the same right without being accused of 'lurching to the right'. We can't just not talk about serious issues which concern people.

It doesn't all go well of course. I was out leafleting in Llanfair Caereinion on Thursday (in preparation for Llanfair Show on sat).. As leaving a cul-de-sac estate, the resident of No 1, which I'd called on 10 minutes previously, came out of his house. This is what he said. "What's this? Oh, its Glyn Davies. Well, that can go in the f***ick bin". He hadn't seen me so I shuffled off as nonchalantly as I could. But not before I noted that his remarks were directed at a boy of around 10 years old. I didn't know whether his remark was aimed at me personally, or at politicians in general. So I wrote down 'undecided' and added the word 'uncouth'.