Thursday, January 31, 2008

Lembit calls in the lawyers

Let today's Daily Mail be a warning to you commenters who post anything remotely scurrilous about Montgomeryshure MP, Lembit Opik. According to today's Daily Mail he has called in the lawyers. The report claims that his new brief has sent a letter to his former fiancee, Sian Lloyd, demanding to see a copy of her forthcoming autobiography - before it is published. It looks as if nerve ends are jangling a touch - or could this be be an attempt to put the frighteners on! Whatever, it sounds a threatening gesture - if the Mail has got it right that is. It is reported that the demand has been rebuffed.

Last time I was talking to Sian, the working title of the book was 'Sunshine and Showers'. The title referred to in today's Mail is 'A Funny Kind of Love'. Hmmmmm. Doesn't sound good. The reason given for this legalistic activity sounds a bit odd to me. He's supposedly afraid she will refer to him as a 'Love Rat' and accuse him of breaking off the engagement to move on to one of the Cheeky Girls, who also feature 'briefsly' in today's edition. He seems very keen to ensure we all believe that Sian dumped him. Funny this. When I was young, every crashed romance saw two ex-lovers desperate to claim that they were the ones who did the 'dumping'. I suppose nobody cared about the 'sympathy vote' in those halcyon days. Anyway, I care deeply for the financial welfare of those who kindly comment on my site - so I'm deleting anything that might fall foul of a litigous lawyer on the prowl.

Employment of the family

Was down in Cardiff yesterday to do AM/PM for the BBC. Enjoyable hour and a half on the settee with John Marek and the Beeb's Phil Parry. It had been arranged for weeks. Just my luck that the Derek Conway story had blown up - particularly since I employed Mrs D part-time for the whole 8 years that I was an Assembly Member. And then I called in to say 'Hello' to the Western Mail's David Williamson in the adjacent office - and what was he doing but writing a story on 'You've guessed it'. That's how I came to feature in David's piece in today's edition.

I didn't make any comment on Derek Conway's position - that's secondary to the main question and just too sensitive for me. The bigger issue is how we react to what has happened. I've probably taken an unusual upfront stance on the issue from Day 1, in that I've never ducked being interviewed about it. I've always reckoned that if I'm spending taxpayer's money, I should be publicly accountable for it. Downside is that I finish up being the one who is always interviewed. Over the last few years I've featured in several programmes discussing the issue - and same thing happened today. No-one else was 'available' to appear on Richard Evans' phone-in on Radio Wales.

In general, I've always thought that employing family members is an OK thing to do. When I realised that I was likely to be elected to the Assembly, I re-designed our house so that my 'constituency office' was in my home. I reckoned this would allow me more time at home and effectively deliver a 24 hours a day service. Mrs D manning the office was an essential part of the equation. No-one else could have free run of the house. Always felt that there was not much objection to it. Other AMs had their own individual reasons. All fair enough, so I thought. But it was only acceptable if it was totally transparent - which it is in the Assembly. In fact, this debate is 'old hat' in Wales.

Under present arrangements, I would not employ a family member if I was elected an MP. There would have to be some changes. The last few days have been deeply distructive of the public's trust and confidence in our system of democracy. I've winced as commentators report their best guesses about how many politicians employ family members. Seems to me that this information should be volunteered clearly and immediately - in my personal opinion of course. I also think we have reached the stage when positions should be advertised, even if the terms of employment might mean that no-one else could apply (who else would want to work 4 hours a day, 3 of them in London and 2 at our home?). In addition I accept that supporting evidence might have to be provided, via time sheets etc.. This would cause outrage amongst traditionalists of course. And I dislike it as much as anyone - but society is changing. There is less acceptance of the tradition of the 'Honourable Member' today. And systems of accoutability are a bit like pregnancy - not at all or the full works. Anyway, that's my developing personal opinion and that's what I've been saying yesterday and today.

Flying Naked

Too late to blog seriously tonight, but I just have to draw your attention to an article in today's telegraph. All this talk about climate change is apparently worrying some of the smaller travel agencies in Germany. Medium term projections suggest that there will be increased financial and moral pressure on tourists to arrange holidays that do not involve any flying., a German agency has come up with a novel idea to entice a new category of travellers to use its planes. From July, the company is going to launch a 'pilot' scheme where all 55 passengers will be required to travel stark naked. The idea came from a dissatisfied customer. The Managing Director of the travel agency is named Herr Hess.

Herr Hess informs us that the Nazis banned 'free body culture' (naturism) during the war, but that the practice has 'blossomed' since. He adds that it is an unusual gap in the market and that people will not get the wrong idea that his company is some sort of recruiting agency for the mile high club.

Before plane spotters start writing letters to their MPs to express concern that they may find themselves distracted from those things that they would normally be spotting, we should note that passengers will embark and disembark with their kit still on. Some potential passengers will no doubt be disappointed that the stewardesses will continue to wear clothes 'for safety reasons'. I should think that passengers will be required to keep their seatbelts on for safety reasons as well. "Best of luck Herr Hess" is what I say. Such innovation deserves reward.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

For Wales read 'Ospreys'

Warren Gatland has shocked the entire Welsh rugby establishment with his first team selection today. There will be no less than 13 Ospreys in the Wales team, which start the weekend's big game at HQ. But I can see his logic. The unluckiest player has to be Gethin Jenkins, but Gatland wanted a front row 'unit' who play together every week - so the hairbears it is. Anyway, Jenkins will will be on 10 minutes into the second half. Fantastic impact player. Same logic applies in the centre, where Tom Shanklin looks unlucky to be consigned to the bench. Sonny Parker may help Henson produce his best - which could make the difference against the old enemy. Hook is in, partly because he is potentially our best player, but partly because Gatland has had to bring in Mike Phillips at scrum half. Stephen Jones might have got the nod if Peel had been fit - another half back 'unit'. the rest is not controversial at all. If we can win 40% of the scrum ball, 90% of our line-out ball, and match them on turnovers (please play well Martyn) we'll win. Big if though.

It will be a nostalgic day for me. Last time we went to HQ, 2 years ago, I led out the Welsh Parliamentary team in what turned out to be a bloodbath against the combined might of the Lords and Commons, on the morning before the big match. I still have one of their shirts as a momento, signed by their President, one Gordon Brown. It was probably worth a fortune last autumn, before the Tory Party Conference. Its probably lost more value than a sub prime mortgage book since then. We lost narrowly.

And then in Cardiff, last spring the Assembly team took them apart. My old stringpuller, Phill had gathered up some of the Assembly staff and researchers, supplemented by the silky skills of Dai Lloyd, Alun Cairns and myself. We raised a lot of money for a bowel cancer charity as well. It was perhaps the proudest moment of my life. Anyway, Alun Cairns will be leading out the team on Saturday. He was too late asking me to guest for him - we had arranged for all the issue of my loins, and their closest to come home for the weekend. Best of luck Alun. Wales expects. Don't let us down.

Hain for the Assembly?

Now I'm just thinking aloud. There's no 'insider' knowledge. Just thinking about what Peter Hain is going to do. Not now, or next week, when he is fully occupied 'clearing his name' - but when the dust settles. I know that some of his colleagues were talking about a 'Mandelsonian' return to front line politics (though we've heard no more since resignation day) but I just cannot see it. I don't actually see the need for any 'name-clearing' anyway. I've heard no-one question Peter's honesty - just his competence and his incredibly casual approach to the rules governing donations. No, it looks as if he is destined for a career on the back benches - and he will not like that at all.

So what else might he do? I reckon he could start eyeing up Gwenda Thomas' seat in the National Assembly. OK, I acknowledge that this blog has contemplated the possibility of 'another' cycling his way into the Neath AM slot, when Gwenda decides to call it a day. But the more I think of it, the more likely it seems to me that Peter Hain MP, will fancy treading the rock strewn highway in search of Welsh gold that has already been trod by Rhodri Morgan, Ron Davies, Alun Michael and John Marek - with varying success. You heard it here first.

The US Presidential Election.

The US election is attracting a lot of interest in the UK. It seems to me to have gripped the interest almost as much as the National Assembly for Wales elections last May. I'm sure it won't be a decisive factor, but its time to think about where this blog is going to place its support. So far, there has been only prediction, half of which has already gone down the pan, and half of which is hovering on the edge. When it started, I thought that Hillary Clinton would beat Mike Huckabee in the final.

On the Republican side, I am for John McCain - and I both think and hope that he will go on to win. But what about the Democrats. I wasn't fussed about this, but some of the dirty stuff that we've been reading about from the South Carolina primary has tipped me over into the Obama camp. Mind you, reading about the endorsement from Senator Teddy Kennedy is enough to make anyone think twice. And I really would not like to call the result of a McCain-Obama final in November. I think McCain would beat Clinton.

My concerns about Obama have been that he seems such a lightweight. His speeches could be delivered by almost anyone. Question is "Does it matter?" Well I don't think it matters over everything else. I've never thought a leader needed to be a policy wonk or a great brain. A leader needs to connect, have an instinct for the mind of the people and the ability to inspire. There's been some discussion of the Gipper on this blog over recent days and nobody fitted the bill better than him - and I think Obama may have it as well.

And then there's the Clintons, packed with experience and oratorical brilliance and a great intellect (in Bill's case anyway). They leave me cold. I have to admit that I always thought Bill Clinton was a brilliant sleazeball - and Hillary is damaged by association as far as I'm concerned. The resort to ever so subtle 'racism' is typical of them - not so much the racism, which was heavily disguised, but the willingness to stoop to whatever it takes to win, no matter how dirty. The attempt to turn the election into a black and white election is what really finished off my preparedness to at least consider backing Mrs Clinton. John McCain simply would never stoop that low. Roll on super-duper Tuesday.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Useless Information.

I'm sure you must have, as I have, wondered how many stars there are in the sky. I sort of knew it was a lot, but according to Australian astronomers, there are 70,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 in the known universe (that's seventy sextillions). Apparently, this is ten times more than the number of grains of sand in all the earth's beaches and deserts.

And even then, the British astronomer and physicist, Sir James Jeans reckons that if you "empty Waterloo Station of everything except 6 specks of dust, it will be far more crowded with dust than space is with stars." It does make one feel small in the wider scale of things.

From 'Quiteinteresting', the Telegraph's quietly intriguing column.

Edna Mopbucket living in fear.

Edna rang me on the mobile earlier tonight. I could hear her quivering with fear. As it happens I was in the Police Station which made things worse. She is absolutely petrified of what Carl Sergeant is going to do to her. The conversation became very confused because she was in such a state, and I made things worse when I insisted that I was talking to an Inspector, not a Sergeant. When we had sorted that out, I tried to tell her that Big Carl is a gentle soul, all 'gruff' and 'muscle' and wouldn't hurt a fly.

She just screamed "He's a bloodthirsty brute. He's got a chief whip. They're all bloodthirsty brutes. They're terrifying." It seems that Edna had been cleaning outside the Labour offices and there had been some discussion going on about Lyn Neagle, one of the Labour AMs. It seems that she has defied the Chief Whip, the aforementioned Mr Sergeant on 4 separate occasions, and she was going to have to be 'dealt with'. Discussions about the precise nature of the punishment was discussed in hushed tones, which only made Edna fear the worst. She wanted me to involve the Inspector, who would have authority over a sergeant, but I told her that they would not dare tangle with Lyn.

First of all, Lyn Neagle might be small, but she is not to be trifled with. Rather Carl than me is what I say. And anyway, she's married to Huw Lewis, another AM who can fight. At least, I assume he can, because Huw was the only AM to invite another AM, Plaid's Owen John Thomas to step outside the debating Chamber for a fight during the 8 years that I was an AM myself. I told Edna that I would be willing to pay for a ticket, if she could find out where Lyn was going to be 'dealt with'. Of course Edna could have misheard the whole thing.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

More on Criminal Justice.

My turn to make the supper tonight. Regular readers will know that this is not my strongest suit. After some hard thinking I had a brainwave - a Chinese take-away. So I arranged the meeting with our local Police Inspector at Welshpool Station for six-o clock, close to the Dragon's Lair, so that I could bring everything to the boil at the same time - metaphorically speaking.

My hour with Inspector Dickson was to follow up issues that Community Councils have been raising with me. (I have meetings with 14 Community Councils over the next few weeks). We discussed several issues, ranging from 'illegal parking' to ' public attitude towards the immigrant community' and the scale of the drugs problem locally. But the main issue was the spread of Community Support Officers in Montgomeryshire - which Councils are telling me are too thin on the ground. And it turns out that this is a fair observation.

As with all new initiatives, the Community Support Officer scheme had to start somewhere before it was 'rolled out'. Well, the Dyfed/Powys initiative started out in Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire - but by the time it came to the 'rolling out' across Montgomeryshire, the money had 'rolled out'. So happens that the consequences of this cut back in spending on policing features on the front page of today's Telegraph. The Police have tried to move things on by inviting Community Councils in the area to match fund Community Support Officers, which they are not prepared to do - understandably because these officers exist elsewhere without this financial contribution. This is not the Police Authority's fault, but its an issue that will run in places like Carno, where the local Council already feels it is not getting a hearing or a fair deal on local services from Powys County Council.

I should add that my culinary skills pulled it off yet again tonight. The sweet and sour chicken turned out to be a triumph.

Plaid's master stroke.

Its really irritating, having to speak positively about political opponents. But there can be no denying it. Plaid Cymru have pulled off a master stroke today by electing its nominees for the House of Lords. The system of individuals being placed in the Westminster Parliament with no regard for the democratic principle does not look right in 2008. The 'Plaid Three' have made a monkey out of the Labour Government in particular, which has been 'banging on' about introducing democracy into the system of nomination to the Lords for years, but have done nothing whatsoever about it. Plaid have just done it - or at least done enough to make it look as if they've done it.

Even worse from other party's standpoint is that Lord Wigley is going to be sitting on the red benches, his standing enhanced by the votes he has behind him. I can see it now. He's going to be all over our television screens whenever there is a Welsh issue dominating the Westminster news. I can see the pseudo outrage that he has mastered to perfection over the last 40 years. And that guttural grunt that makes his voice seem as if its rising up from the centre of the planet. Lady Janet will be sensible and quiet, and I don't know Eurfyl ap Gwilym. I don't see them as dangerous at all. But the Lord Wigley is an entirely different matter. Its not the debates where he will star - its the village green in front of Parliament where all the cameras gather. He's going to be everywhere. The only man to counter what's to come is the great Lord Roberts of Conwy. I do not think we can afford to allow him a peaceful retirement. His country and his party is going to need him.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Campaigning - Montgomeryshire style.

We arranged a lunch today at the Village Hall in Llandrinio. The speaker was the very engaging MP for Shrewsbury, Daniel Kawczynski. Over 70 people turned up - about a third of them non-members of the Party. So I decided to introduce Daniel, and outline a few thoughts on what sort of an approach I want to take towards campaigning.

Like every political association, we want to win elections - but I want us to be a lot more than just a vote gathering operation. We run a full time office, which is difficult to finance without the support of any local councillors, an AM, or an MP. But we do it. We set out to be accessible to everyone in Montgomeryshire, irrespective of political affiliation, to do what we can to help with issues that concern them. We are setting out to build a solid reputation as dependable and responsive.

Another key aspect of our approach is not to be in any way dismissive of those who support our opponents. It just makes no sense. If we are going to start winning elections in Montgomeryshire, we need to persuade people who have never previously considered voting for us to change their minds. They won't do that if we insult them. So everybody is welcome in our office. Daniel K slots very well into that strategy.

Biggest issue today was the EU Constitution/Treaty. I was surprised how angry people are about it. They insisted on signing a petition to send to our local Liberal Democrat MP, demanding that he stand by his promise to vote for a referendum. Some chance of that, I don't think! The Lib Dems position on this issue is deeply duplicitous. Nick Clegg has been calamitously unconvincing. They are trying to maintain that the 'constitution' that was previously proposed (and on which they promised a referendum) is a significantly different document from the treaty that Gordon Brown wants the UK to sign up to. David Laws was adamant on this point on Question Time last night. I don't think many people believed him - and I don't think many people would believe our MP if he said the same thing. I'm told that the Lib Dem MPs are deeply split on this issue. Its certainly true that Lib Dem bloggers are kicking lumps out of Nick Clegg over this. Quite right too. They are trying to hoodwink the voters. Off to the Farmer's Ball now. I wonder what they'll have to say about the EU Treaty.

Snatched away at the last minute.

Had a coffee with Edna today when I was down in Cardiff Bay and she was sporting a rather sickly grin. She really can be quite vindictive at times. I remember how cross she was when she happened to overhear a group of Assembly Members celebrating big increases in salary they were expecting as a result of increases in MP's salaries, and extra money for new powers conferred by the current Government of Wales Bill. She was narked because she's paid peanuts for cleaning Assembly offices, and there was no talk of any of the extra coming her way. I remember her muttering something about "What's good for the goose...etc.."

Well she happened to be standing within hearing of some AMs who were bemoaning today's decision by MPs not to vote for their full recommended pay increase. And they were also reckoning that any extra responsibility money would go down like a lead balloon with their voters. She reckoned that she heard moans about paying for the mortgages that had been taken out on the anticipated increases - and really naggy comments like "If the stupid ***** had given the Police the full award, we could have got away with it. Don't know whether all this was true, but something had put that nasty little smile on Edna's face.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Meaning of the word 'Honourable'.

Once Lembit Opik gave his public support to Peter Hain last week, he was doomed. Tonight, the Liberal Democrat seems to be the only MP who does not think the resignation was inevitable. He seems to think its ok for a Minister to carry on in office at the same time as he is being investigated by the Police! Ah well, there's no accounting for some people's opinions.

I really cannot see how a 'forced' resignation can be passed off as 'Honourable'. Yet that seems to be the word that every Labour 'spokesman' has been using to describe today's resignation of Peter Hain, the Secretary of State for Wales (and Work and Pensions). If he'd resigned on the day he disclosed that he had failed to declare over £103,000 of donations towards his Deputy Leadership bid, he might just have got away with the use of the 'H' word - but surely not on the day that the Electoral Commission referred the matter to the Police! Oddly enough, every Labour 'spokesman' who has used the word 'Honourable' has also described the resignation as inevitable. I suppose the New Labour dictionary has something of an unusual way with words.

The other theme of comments emanating from the mouths of Labour 'spokesman' today is personal sympathy for the ex- Secretary of State. So I've been delving into the deepest recesses of my heart to see if I can find any sympathy there. I found no more than a smidgen - and that only because I rather liked Peter Hain. But I can and will never forgive him for joining with Rhodri Morgan to force through the ban on 'dual-candidacy' at the last National Assembly for Wales election. I daresay you've forgotten what this row was all about. Too complex to explain in a blog post. But let me remind you that these two men distorted the electoral process in Wales for partisan advantage in an utterly disgraceful way. I told both of them, to their faces, in the Assembly Debating Chamber, that such a constitutional outrage would pollute both of their legacies for ever. So No, search as I might, I cannot find more than that smidgen of sympathy. But I can see quite a bit of 'just desserts'. And you can call me bitter if you like - because I am.

I've always had great respect for Paul Murphy. The Prime Minister got this one right, in my opinion. Should be fun watching how he works with Labour's coalition partners in the National Assembly, bearing in mind the total condemnation which has laced every utterance he has made on the coalition deal. Happy days ahead.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

In prison.

I went to prison yesterday - of my own free will, I should add. A friend, who is a High Sheriff had told me that there was a dynamic free thinking Governor at Her Majesty's Prison Shrewsbury, so I invited myself along. I'd never visited a prison before and learned more about prison life in two hours than I ever expected to. I cannot write too much because it would be letting Governor Hendry down.

First thing that surprised me was that it was quite difficult to get in. By the time I'd shown identification, been photographed, handed over my mobile and been escorted in with heavy gates and doors being unlocked in front of me and locked behind me, I had a sense of what it must feel like to be an unwilling visitor. And it does disorientate.

When I entered the Governor's room, his PA said "Would you like a drink Sir". It could have been straight out of 'The Bill'. I answered weakly, "A cup of tea please". And then a very strange thing happened. A woman that I have known from my school days walked in. She works in a senior position in the prison. I know her well - but the last time we met, she was a schoolteacher in Newtown. I thought she still was. One part of my brain was telling me that I knew this woman, while another part was telling me this wasn't possible. Ridiculously, I had to ask her who she was. When she told me, I felt quite dumbfounded. She must have thought I was losing it.

Now what did I expect. An MP friend of mine had been there and had expected it to be rather chaotic. I'd expected there to be an atmosphere of resentment and sullenness. Both of us were wrong. There was an amazing atmosphere of normality. 300ish young men (mostly) locked up, with no access to women, or the drink or drugs that many had 'enjoyed' too much before their 'long stay visit' - and they all seemed totally nonthreatening and normal. They were reading, playing table tennis, learning various skills and working at producing things. I thought to myself "What a dreadful waste of human beings".

I was also surprised when the Governor told me that many prisoners arrive, totaal y shocked to have been given a custodial sentence. It seems that criminals are just about the most optimistic people when they appear before the judge or jury. They always think they are going to 'get off'. So they arrive in deep distress, wondering who is going to meet the kids from school, or look after aged parents, or feed the dog etc. etc. I'd never thought of this.

I've been asking several questions of myself ever since - and the biggest question is whether 'Prison Works'. Of course it works in that criminals cannot commit crimes (easily anyway) when they are locked up. But it only really works if the prisoners make a go of it after being released. I don't think I'm breaking any confidences when I say that this aspect of the job matters a lot to Governor Hendry. In the short run, equipping a prisoner to manage after release is hugely expensive, but if this greatly reduces the level of re-offending, it saves money and discord in society in the longer term. The potential for debate about how to deal with prisoners is huge - and as the governor reminded me, it was Churchill who said that it is possible to judge the state of a nation by the state of its prisons. After yesterday afternoon's experience, the issue of how we rehabilitate criminals is bound to become a consuming issue for me if I were ever to become a Member of Parliament.

Morning in the Workhouse.

I spent yesterday morning with Ian Garland, Chief Executive and Julia Parker, Marketing Manager of the trust which hopes to restore the Llanfyllin Workhouse, in Montgomeryshire. The Llanfyllin Dolydd Preservation Trust has just secured a long term loan of £400,000 which will create the financial stability to enable a restoration plan to be developed. Good news for Llanfyllin, and for anyone who cares about conserving the most important parts of our heritage.

The Llanfyllin Workhouse is perhaps the best remaining example of the 54 workhouses that were built in Wales after the Poor Law was introduced in 1834. It was built between 1837-1841 and housed up to about 200 poor souls. It was transferred to the local authority in 1930, and eventually became an old people's home. It was closed in 1982.

Montgomeryshire people don't like change. In 1838 while the Llanfyllin Workhouse was being built, a big mob of protesters had to be put down by the Montgomeryshire Yeomanry. And in 1982, when it was closed another protesting mob of 250 locals gathered in the local town hall. Its fortunate that the locals had become more civilised because the Montgomeryshire Yeomanry had been disbanded by then.

The sense of incarceration that must have descended on those who were condemned to the Llanfyllin Workhouse is easy to imagine when walking through the buildings. I imagine that it feels rather like a prison camp would have felt. But its our history, and so its important. The people who have worked hard to bring the restoration project to where it is today have done a great job. Lets hope that they can finish it.

National Park's Disgrace.

I was much concerned with a major planning application row when I was an AM, representing Mid and West Wales (which included Breconshire). The development concerned was at Gilestone Farm, Talabont-on Usk, near Brecon and had been approved - but there was a hoo-hah about whether the application had been dealt with in a proper manner. I was in discussion with the Farm's owners and the objectors to the development at the time. It was a hot situation. An inquiry was instigated into how the planning application had been handled by the Brecon Beacons National Park Authority.

Before last May's Assembly election the reluctance of the Park's Chief Executive to tell me what had been discovered (I didn't push it at the time because I accepted that the Authority should discuss it first) made me suspect that all was not well. But I didn't expect to read what appeared on BBC online yesterday. Its a disgrace on the Brecon Beacons National Park Authority. I will just reproduce the line from the investigator's report that is so shocking.

"In my opinion this (planning) file has been 'cleansed' in the sense that all drafts and casual notes and other such documents have been deliberately removed".

I'm a long way from the action here, but I cannot see how the person or persons responsible for this 'cleansing' can possibly stay in their job/s. It really is shocking and will bring disgrace down upon the Authority.

Edna Mopbucket is back from her hols

Edna rang me tonight to tell me about the big supermarket decision taken in Llandrindod Wells this afternoon. She was down there doing a bit of temping, while some of the Council employees were on 'union' activities. As it happens she overheard a Council Board discussion going on about the support given to Council employees which enables them to carry out this 'union' work. It appears that not everyone is happy with the status quo. It seems that the Council pays various staff for 14 days per annum when they are actually working on 'union' activity - and that only 30% of the staff are actually union members anyway. She explained to me that some councillors thought the other 70% were 'freeloading' on the 30% who pay there union subs - while others thought that there should be some form of recognition for the 70%. Discussion turned quite nasty she said.

Edna couldn't give a damn about the principles. As far as she is concerned, she thinks the Council should give them 100 days for 'union' activity. It means an extra few bob she can put to one side for her next holiday.

Very Big Day for Welshpool.

Today, Powys County Council approved a planning application which will fundamentally change the market town nearest to our home. The changes are dramatic and three of them are particularly significant.

Firstly, the building of a new livestock market on the edge of the town will ensure that Welshpool remains a major centre for the collection and distribution of the animals produced in the fertile livestock producing area of the Severn Valley and beyond - as it has done for generations.

Secondly, it will lead to a major redesign of the retailing and parking layout of the town, including a major new supermarket - which is sufficiently near to the town centre (in my opinion) to do more good than harm (though its impact on different businesses will inevitably vary).

And thirdly it will introduce a one-way traffic system which will transform the environment of the main street from that of traffic chaos that currently pertains. There are several other less significant changes.

I realise that there has been concern about the impact of such change on Welshpool, and that not everyone is in favour. Much of the opposition is against the new supermarket - without which there would have been no funding for the livestock market. I must admit that I have supported this application, in principle since it was first put forwards in 2006. Hopefully, it will turn out to be the right decision. I firmly believe that it will provide a real boost to Welshpool.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Tories making the best of it.

Regular readers will be aware of my opinion that the most appropriate constitution for the government of Wales (starting from the unsatisfactory place that we are now, that is) would be the granting of law making powers to the National Assembly, in those subject areas that are already devolved. As the current discussions about the power to ban 'smacking' in Wales demonstrates, there are separate arguments to be had about the scope of the subject areas. Some are moved to comment on my posts, registering their disagreement, and dismissing my views as being 'non-Tory'. Usually these comments don't go into much detail, but I've always thought the gist of it to be that, along with some Conservative AMs, I have in some way 'sold out'. If anything, the criticism has become more aggressive since I lost my position as an AM - and became a Parliamentary candidate, but did not change my mind on this constitutional issue.

In summery, I believe the devolutionary settlement to have been unclear, unstable, and a recipe for conflict between Wales and Westminster since the First Government of Wales Act was implemented in 1999. I believe that the Second Government of Wales Act that came into effect last May has made the position worse. I accept that returning to the pre 1999 position by abolition of the Assembly altogether would be an entirely logical response - but I just do not believe it is a realistic possibility. Thus far, this post is preamble.

So now to come to the point of it. Since the current GOWA passed into law, I have argued that the National Assembly should do everything possible to instill confidence into the process of transferring powers as it is legislated for in this complex Act - by reassuring MPs about what measures might be introduced if and when the power is so transferred (via Legislative Competence Orders). To date, there seems to have been an unhelpfully dismissive attitude (almost contemptuous in at one case) by Assembly Government Ministers. I was hugely impressed today when I read an extract from Hansard which notes an entirely different, positive attitude by an AM, and a Conservative AM at that. It reads as follows.

'Hywel Francis: I would like to end by paying tribute to two Assembly Members. The best example of what I call Owenite co-operation on harmony has come from the Conservative Assembly Member for Cardiff North, Jonathon Morgan. In bringing forward his proposed order on mental health in Wales as a back bencher, he has built cross-party support in the Assembly, gained Welsh Assembly Government support, held productive informal meetings with me, as Chair of the Welsh Affairs Committee,and with my committee staff, and built new political and governmental links in Westminster. I think it is a model to be followed.'

Now this is the way to do it. I thought this proposed LCO did have the potential to lead to constitutional 'turbulence'. Its just a question of respect, being grown up, and a commitment to making the best of an unsatisfactory process. Lets hope that this sort of cooperative approach spreads. It would certainly reduce my worries about conflict bwtween Cardiff Bay and Westminster.

Chicken Music

The same hoary old story appeared for the umteeth time in today's Clement Crabbe column of the Daily Mail. Much amusement was being derived from reports that a poultry farmer kept his laying hens content by a non stop diet of Classic FM. Without being specific about the actual station, it is entirely practical to 'entertain' laying hens in this way. During the early years of my farming career, we maintained a laying flock of several thousand hens, and always had the radio on at full blast in the battery houses.

It may be that some hens do have specific tastes in music, and today have progressed to music a touch more highbrow than my taste - but ours had to put up with what I wanted to hear. I'm sure some became expert on ball by ball cricket commentary, of which I was an addict for many years. The only point of practical importance was that there was dominating background noise - so that all the hens didn't panic when the door opened, or something was accidentally dropped - leading to cracked eggs, damaged hens and reduced profits.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Iain Dale has diabetes

Been catching up on the blogosphere tonight, and was taken aback by a post on Iain Dale's blog, informing us that he has been diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes this week. While Iain is right to say 'it could be a lot worse', the diagnosis must still have come as a blow. I note from his post that he debated about sharing what is very personal information before deciding to publish. I'm pleased that he did so because it helps 'awareness' and early dignosis when individuals in public life allow themselves to become a platform for discussion. It gives the discussion more impact.

I was in the same position 5 years ago when I was diagnosed with Colorectal Cancer. It was a huge shock to me and the family at the time, and for a while I assumed that an early death was inevitable. After a few days I decided to be entirely open about my illness - mainly because I had been so incredibly, stupidly blind to the symptoms, which had been obvious for months. Since, I have learned that early diagnosis is crucial to maximise chances of successful treatment. Its this blindness which costs so many Bowel Cancer sufferers their lives. I was so so lucky that the tumour was at an early stage, and some pretty radical surgery led to a complete recovery. Regular readers of this blog will know that I publish Bowel Cancer related posts from time to time.

The second reason that I'm so public is that I do not see why people who have suffered illness should have to hide away. I've just been on holiday, and I've been out running and relaxing by the pool with no shirt - exactly as I've always done. I must say that I've never seen anyone else with a colostomy do that. Over the last 10 days I did notice several people (especially Barbadians) staring at my colostomy cover, probably wondering what it was. For those of you who don't know, it looks like a raised round 4 inch diameter plaster stuck on my abdomen. Because I colonically irrigate every 2 days I never have to wear a 'colostomy bag'. Only about 3% of British ostomates irrigate, which I think is a pity, because the process gives us back so much more control of our lives. So well done Iain. You'll do good through your decision to be open.

Made it Home.

Sunday night and we've made it home. I say this because the journey involved flying into Heathrow this morning - at just about the same time as the Boeing 777 that crash-landed earlier in the week was being moved from the Southern runway. I can imagine people of nervous disposition being worried by this incident - and it says something about the safety record of today's aeroplanes that no-one on board seemed to be in the least bit concerned. After all there has not been a single example of a Boeing 777 crashing in the 10 years the plane has been in service. Its probably the safest form of travel, including walking!

Perhaps I knew a bit more about what had happened at Heathrow than most other passengers. On the day of the crash-landing, we were joined on a mini bus trip in Barbados by another holidaymaker who seemed incredibly well informed. When I asked him, he said that he was a British Airways pilot, (probably on a 'freebie') and had been flying passenger planes into Heathrow for the last 20 years. He was staying in the same hotel as we were. He knew immediately that something serious had gone wrong with the plane, because the scale of error was beyond anything he could imagine. It was just not possible for a pilot to fall a thousand feet short of the runway - when the touchdown point aimed for is a thousand feet along the runway. We now know that all of the Boeing's engines failed to respond when extra power was needed, two miles from touchdown and the plane, in effect glided in. All's well that ends well, but it could have been a real disaster. There is going to be a lot of interest in what caused the crash. I hadn't realised that it had been such a big story in the UK until catching up on the news today.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Barbados Report No 9

Up at 7.30. Breakfast in Horizons. 18 holes of golf and lunch in Reefs. Then out for a run - past the golf course, the tennis centre, the marina where the rich boys play, and then on past the dozen or so roadside stalls, where flying fish are gutted and sold. Offshore are a dozen or so little Barbadian fishing boats and circling above with indescribable grace are 7 frigate birds (I think). A dead monkey on the roadside - a surprise, because I have not seen a live one during the 10 dys I've been here. Its beautiful, but I'm starting to think about home. Bought the Telegraph today for the first time since arriving. It was Thursday's and it cost 18 Barbadian dollars. Checking out tomorrow. Should be home in Montgomeryshire in time to read the Sundays around teatime.

There seems to have been much discussion about what an MP is worth while I've been away. Its all rather distasteful. Its a 'free vote' at Westminster, so I don't think I will cause any bother by giving the Davies opinion on this one. I would vote for the salary increase as proposed by the SSRB. Its not sensible to have MPs deciding on their own pay, so it should be left to the Senior Salaries Review Board. What is the point of setting up an 'independent' assessment system - and then ignoring it. But I do think that those who express disquiet about MP's remuneration packages do so with good reason - except that its not the basic salary that they should be looking at.

This blog has consistently condemned the 'Communications Allowance' which I have previously described as a 'Sitting MP's Re-election Slush Fund'. Its a cool ten thousand per annum, and I've seen it used in the most disgraceful way - printing and posting glossy leaflets lauding the MP's acheivements just when a General Election is about to be called. And the biggest disgrace is that its entirely legal. I hope that the next Conservative Government will scrap this outrageous waste of taxpayer's money. I also reckon that the pension arrangements are too generous - especially since this is one area where most other people's pension plans have taken a big hit. And thirdly, I do not think there is any case for an increase in staffing allowance, which is already nigh on one hundred thousand per annum. MPs already have a tendency to become too involved in matters which should rightly be issues for local councils and devolved institutions. The sun is still shining here in Barbados, and I read that Peter Hain is still Secretary of State for Wales, although I understand that he has received the uusually fatal support of Lembit Opik. Won't be long now Peter. I recommend Barbados when you have a bit more time for holidays.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Barbados Report No 8

Its a fair bet that I'm the only one basking under the Barbadian sun today who is thinking about Foot and Mouth Disease. This is not quite as sad as it seems. Firstly, I'd just finished my book and my mind was wandering. It was Dan Brown's 'Digital Fortress' - a thoroughly good read I thought. The other book I've just finished is a history of the Arab-Israeli Conflict - a real life tragedy more complex and difficult to solve than anything Dan Brown could possibly conjure up.

Second reason the Foot and Mouth Disease was on my mind is that the BBC rang me earlier today hoping I could do Good Morning Wales tomorrow to comment on a couple of reports that are being published today by National Assembly for Wales Committees. Even though I don't know what these reports are about, I don't expect them to say much new. But I would have liked the interview just the same. Its an issue that has caused massive losses to the UK livestock farming industry, something the NFU are trying to quantify as a claim against the Government (probably futile but must be done). It is also the issue which demonstrated more clearly than any other fr me why Gordon Brown is a very poor Prime Minister.

Since last summer's outbreak, Gordon Brown has called as witness to his supposed 'competence ' the way in which he handled this 'crisis'. This is preposterous. Firstly it was the Government which bears responsibility for releasing the virus in the first place - by cutting corners in the maintenance of the drainage infrastructure of the animal diseases research site at Pirbright, the source of the outbreak. We cannot put direct personal responsibility on Gordon Brown for this - but he was responsible for the disgraceful attempt to dump all the blame on Meriel, a US research company which shared the site. The drainage infrastructure was the responsibility of the UK Government.

But the real reason where I thought Brown acted disgracefully was over how he handled the matter of compensation to livestock farmers. Now sometimes there are things that you just know to be true. You just know - but you cannot prove it. This is one such case. When the outbreak happened the Prime Minister was riding high in the polls and was planning a General Election. He decided that the position for farmers was so serious that the Treasury should offer compensation. I just know that this was communicated to the industry by Gordon Brown himself. I also know that it will be denied. Over the following weekend, our Prime Minister decided not to call an Election after all - and withdrew the compensation package, insisting that the money came from the Defra budget.

Now, this matters a lot to Wales. If it was Treasury money, Wales gets a share. But if its Defra money, Wales has to find any compensation from within its existing budget. If today's Assembly reports bring this quite disgraceful and underhand bit of trickery out into the open, they will be worth reading. Otherwise, I suspect that they will tell us no more than what we know already. Now its back to the sunshine.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Barbados Report No 7

Perhaps it was the promise, in writing on his election posters, that he would not 'Lie, Cheat or Steal' that did it. Anyway, in yesterday's General Election, the voters of Barbados chose David Thompson, Leader of the Democratic Labour Party to be their new Prime Minister. The Rt. Hon. Owen Arthur, Leader of the Barbados Labour Party has lost his position after 15 years in what I'm told was a landslide. My personal opinion polling amongst taxi drivers and hotel staff was spot on.

I've asked a few people why they think it happened. "Time for a change" is the constant refrain. Is this now the most potent election slogan throughout the world's liberal democracies? It seemed the only logical reason for the recent demise of John Howard in Australia. In the UK, my party was making little progress until we elected David Cameron as our leader. David represented a real change for us. And Gordon Brown was going great guns while he succeeded in portraying himself as 'the change' from Tony Blair. Nick Clegg's recent election campaign was based on the words 'change' and 'new' and almost nothing else.

For those of you who know Barbados, we're staying in the Almond Beach Village in St Peter - which is linked to the Almond Beach Club in St James (I think). I chose it because it has a 9 hole golf course in the grounds. We've played between 15 and 18 holes every morning. The 1st tee is about 50 yards from our room.

Just checked the BBC website to see what's happened back home. Whenever you are a long way off, it seems as nothing whatsoever significant happens. Distance creates perspective.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Barbados Report No 6

Been to Bridgetown today. Bus left hotel at 8.30. Rosalin, the bus conductress spreads panic when she asks if all those intent on duty free shopping have their passports and airline tickets. So we all rush back to our rooms. 5 minutes later she asks, "Is everybody back now"? Silly question. No reply came there from the one who wasn't.

Lots more feminine elegance on display in the capital city - smart business wear, well cut denim and the haughty Naomi Campbell look. Serious hair town is Bridgetown. Not an ordinary cut to be seen. General Election day. No alcohol for sale or consumption between 6 am. and 6 pm.. Island tradition dictates that every one must be totally unaffected by alcohol when they cast their vote. So no rum punch until the polling booths close. Almighty p*** up expected afterwards, so the next day is always declared a national holiday.

Saw a wonderful election poster today, just outside the Barbadian Parliament Building. A big picture of Thompson, the opposition leader accompanied by the words 'He will not Lie, Cheat or Steal'. The inference was clear. It reminded me of 'We will be Whiter than White'. Just a touch more direct.

Walked up to the Mecca of West Indies cricket, the Kensington Oval for a look around. It dominates Bridgetown, a bit like the Millennium Stadium dominates Cardiff. The magic comes from the legends that played there. How's this for a team? Greenidge and Haynes to open, Sir Garfield Sobers, Sir Frank Worrell, Sir Everton Weekes, Sir Clyde Walcott, Joel Garner, Malcolm Marshall, Wesley Hall. and Charlie Griffiths - and Winston Reed. All Barbadians. Sobers would have to keep wicket. "Who is Winston Reed', you may ask. Well, he was Barbados' leading spin bowler until his retirement last season, and he took me out to the square for a feel of it today. So he's in my team because I like him, with Otis Gibson as 12th man.

There were only two other people in the ground today. As we were passing each other, they said "Hello Glyn". Hard to believe. They were a couple from Crickhowell who knew me, on a cruise which had docked at Bridgetown for the day. Dangerously small world.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Barbados Report No 5

Sounds of the Caribbean everywhere, raucous and insistent. By day, its the hooting of horns - cars, lorries and buses. There is an entire language of toots and parps that would take me weeks to decipher - none of it aggressive though. By night, the hills are alive with the sound of frogs. And its not only the hills. They're everywhere, and it goes on all night.

Out on my run an hour ago, I was passed by another election convoy. Shorter than yesterday's - more ghetto blaster than carnival. Had a bit of a shock though when I passed a poster I hadn't seen before. A big poster with a face that looked like that of a dark skinned version of Mike German - with '1 Lib Dem' printed across it. I didn't have my glasses so I stopped in my tracks to take a closer look. Blessed relief. It was a Democratic Labour Party poster with a picture of Owen Arther's opponent and a pitch for the votes of the poor and forgotten. It read 'I Wid Dem'. Promise you I didn't make this up.

And equality concious Helen Mary would have been proud of me. There was what can only be described as a 'Love Cruise' from our hotel last night. It was advertised as 'Champagne at Twilight' - so I made some tentative enquiries. The message was as brazen as you like. It was a cruise for couples, but we don't allow "No man with man" and "No woman with woman" couples. Ok, so its no skin off my nose - but I've not heard it put quite so blatantly for years. We went to Reefs instead.

Cannot help but be struck by the shape of the Barbadians. All the men are lean and rangy. They all look as if they should have been born with a cricket ball in their hands. Half an hours practice and they'd be county standard. But the women are very different. Today's run coincided with the school run, where most of the girls are slim. All the children are in tidy school uniforms. But mature women are (how shall I put this) more substantial. They seem as proud of the ampleness of their 'booty' as there ability to shake it. In Wales this would be read as insulting, but I don't think it is here. No-one seems to care a hoot about their weight. I cannot help but wonder why there is such a difference in what happens between men and women. But there is no way I can ask.

I'm pleased to read that Dafydd Wigley has at last stepped forward to accept his destiny. He is from the 'sane' wing of Plaid Cymru, and will be a credit to Wales in the House of Lords. Smart move by what some of some of those who comment on this blog call the 'separatists'

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Barbados Report No 4

About 30 minutes out from the hotel on my daily fitness stint, when I started to hear this almighty racket. It sounded a bit as I imagine the Notting Hill Carnival to sound. Louder and louder still grew the noise. And then a Barbadian Police 4 x 4 came into view, all lights flashing. Following was a lorry, loaded up with a steel band and dancing girls. For a minute I thought it was my new mate Freddie out on tour. Then there was another lorry, piled high with more Barbados folk, colourfully dressed, chanting and laughing joyously, all waving posters. Then there were about 30 highly decorated vehicles, horns blowing and posters on the roof. Posters everywhere. The whole thing was followed by a troupe of dancers on foot, with people joining in for a short period as the cavalcade passed by.

Standing on the second lorry was a tall West Indian man with a microphone, and a voice about two octaves lower than the soon-to-be-ennobled Dafydd Wigley. It could easily have been 'Ol' Whispering Death' himself. . "Peter Phillips 'All Da Way', he spoke/sang. "Da Barbados Labour Party". "Keep Owen In Da House". 'Keep Da House Tidy". ' Peter Phillips All Da Way". Over and over again. I was spellbound. All I do is put a titchy little loud speaker on the roof of my car to announce that I'm in the area. A rethink needed. I don't know whether this Owen Arthur is any use as a Prime Minister - but his supporters sure know how to have fun. I've never seen so much joy being had by a group connected with politics. I've no idea why, but I'd be tempted to vote for Peter Phillips if I lived here. I've said so often to my supporters, "Never underestimate the power of name recognition".

Barbados Report No 3

Developing a routine. I usually do on holiday. Mid afternoon, I usually do some fitness work. A 45 minute walk out from the Hotel and run back. Then to the Business Centre to check emails, etc.. It will then be a spell reading by the pool - before the first Rum Punch of the evening. I stop half way out, where the local fishing boats come in, and attract a flock/group (?) of the most wonderful scavenging sea birds I've seen. They look like a longer, sleeker version of the Red Kite. Its a bit like stopping at Bwlch Nant yr Arian, on the way to Aberystwyth - only even more dramatic.

Last night I went to 'Reefs' and enjoyed 'Jerk Wahoo', with 'Paw Paw Salsa' and 'Oil Down'. I know how this might read, but its a very nice spicy fish dish. As we were awaiting the arrival of the Jerk Wahoo, we sensed that we were in the presence of greatness. And we were. Sitting at the next table were six West Indians, complete with dreadlocks, beards and a natural swaying body movement. And it was striking to see six men hold hands in a meditative grace before eating in a public restaurant. It was Jamaican reggae singer, Freddie Magreggor and his soft reggae band. They must be special because they were being held in awe by the waitresses. We were told his biggest hit is called 'Lovers Rock'.

Picked up a Daily Mail, and really surprised to see that Peter Hain hasn't resigned yet. The weather is lovely.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Barbados Report - No 2

Ricky, the taxi driver just wasn't having it. He'd overheard me say that I thought Michael Holding and Shane Warne were the best bowlers this world has ever seen. "Ah beg tu diffa" came over the loudspeaker. "Malcolm Marshall was da best o dem all". After some discussion we agreed that another Barbadian, Sir Garfield Sobers was the best cricketer ever. And we also agreed about the present rumpus going on in Australia.

There can be no argument about Barbados producing more pounds of world class cricketer per square inch that anywhere else in the world. Apart from Sobers and Marshall, there's Joel Garner, Gordon Greenage (?) and the three Ws, Worrell, Weekes and Walcott amongst several others. And there are more people living in Cardiff than the entire population of Barbados.

But back to the goings on in Australia. Neither of us knew what was to be done. But both of us would have preferred Ponting to have acted differently. Ricky, felt strongly about this, because it could be that in the end, Buckner (a Barbadian and a fine and fair umpire) will probably turn out to be the only one who is punished . My own view of this is coloured by my preference for men to sort out things amongst themselves rather than resort to 'government' to do it for them.

The row stems from accusations that Harbhajan Singh called Australian batsman, Andrew Symonds a monkey, a reference to his ethnic background. Harbhajan denies this - but has been suspended for 3 matches anyway. Its one man's word against another. Unfair accusations of racism are wrong, as well as racism itself. Inevitably, the Indians have kicked up a fuss, and there is no obvious way out of the mess. I would prefer if Ponting had informed Buckner that he wanted to go for a pee, marched into the Indian dressing room, demanded a meeting with the captain, and another with Harbhajan, a full apology, assurances that it would not happen again etc.. And that is after sorting out whether he said it, of course.

But we are where we are. The match referee has decided. It really would be an outrage if the authorities back down. Any backtracking would be as a result of political and financial pressure (there is more money in Indian cricket than the rest of the world put together). The message about stamping out racism would be weakened, rather than what was intended by the new rules. It may well be that the tour will be suspended and world cricket thrown into turmoil. But that's what happens whenever 'government' becomes involved in things. Ricky has a very low opinion of his namesake, Ponting after this - and it wasn't high before. There is a growing world wide dislike of the current Australian team. And I suspect there is no-one more opposed to racism in sport than a Barbadian taxi driver.

Barbados Report - No 1

I already knew that Barbados had a reputation for hospitality. But this was going a bit over the top. Particularly since, as the BBC's Vaughan Roderick asked "Didn't you use to be someone?". Perhaps if I'd still been an Assembly Member, on CPA business, it would have been more understandable. But there he was, outside the entrance to our hotel when we arrived, up on a specially prepared podium, committing himself to offering ever greater hospitality to visitors - The Rt. Hon. Owen Arthur, Prime Minister of Barbados.

OK, so there were about 200 local Barbadians and a few other onlookers there as well. But allow me my moment of self-importance. It turns out that there is a General Election on Tuesday and St Peter, where we are staying is in Mr Arthur's constituency. My limited polling (2 taxi drivers) tell me that the Prime Minister may lose his job next Tuesday. All 2 of them tell me that the PM has lent too much towards the wealthy and business, at the expense of the poorer people - especially taxi drivers perhaps! Anyway, democracy is well established in Barbados, the Island boasting the 3rd oldest Parliamentary bureaucracy in the world.

We wanted to see something of the Island, beyond the beach and the 'Rum Punch' culture. So we took in an Island Tour yesterday. First up was the Barbados Wildlife Park (more like a modern British Zoo ) where the stars were the Iguanas and hundreds of local tortoises that were strolling around everywhere - and opened by Mr Owen Arthur. Then on to The Andromeda Botanical Gardens, which had been created by Iris Banochie and left to the Barbados National Park in 1998 - and opened by Mr Owen Arthur. Then it was Orchid World - opened by 'Guess Who', Yes, Mr Owen Arthur. But its just driving about the 166 square mile Island that tells you most. Still lots of sugar cane, which is just coming into flower - but the industry is in terminal decline, at least for sugar production.There are only two rather decrepit sugar cane processing factories left.

We saw humming birds just 'humming around' and a mongoose (which looks like a cross between the horrid grey squirrel and a rat). Apparently it was imported onto the Island to rid the place of poisonous snakes and to control rodents - which it has done successfully. But predictably, there are now too many mongooses/mongeese (?). Its nice and warm here.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Teaching Good Manners

Richard Cairns is an interesting headmaster. He has introduced an year long course for the 14 years olds at Brighton College, teaching 'Good manners and etiquette. Pupils are learning how to lay a table, the appropriate time to remove jackets and how to hold cutlery properly (such as always 'drawing' the soup spoon away from the body). The course also covers learning how to tackle a bow-tie (which is still beyond me as it happens), how to boil an egg and how to erect a tent. And best of all, the course teaches young people to be generally helpful to pensioners, and give up their seats to more vulnerable people. I do like the sound of Mr Cairns.

The reason this story caught my eye is that I've just read about a similar exercise in promoting civilised behaviour, by a man known only as Daniel from Beccles who wrote 'The Book of the Civilised Man' in the time of the Magna Carta - referred to at length in my first holiday read. The book gives advice on how to behave in Church, as a page to a nobleman, on the street, at the table, and in a brothel. It also includes instruction on when, where and how to urinate, defecate, spit, belch and fart politely. I know it was the 13th century, but I'm interested in the concept of how its possible to perform some of these activities in a polite way - apart from abstinence that is. The advice in the book also covers how to eat, drink, how often to take a bath, have sex and take exercise. Also advised is keeping pigs and cats outside of the living space referred to as the 'Hall' - allowing only 'gentleman's animals' to enter, which include 'dogs, hawks and horses'. The 'Hall' was a public place, where it was considered bad manners to 'scratch yourself or look for fleas in your breeches', comb your hair, clean your nails, take off your shoes, or urinate in the 'Hall'. The latter practice was regarded as particularly bad manners - unless you were the 'head of the household'. As always, I am not making anything up. I hope that Mr Cairns has given due credit in the college's prospectus to Daniel of Beccles.

What is the point of Darling

Its almost a nine hour flight from Heathrow to Barbados. Lots of time to read the newspapers. I usually only read the Western Mail and the Telegraph - and then only sometimes. Today, I read everything. Articles everywhere telling us about the hopelessness of our Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling. Firstly, he completely messed up his spending review, telling us that his proposals to ease Inheritance Tax rules were nothing to do with the Conservative proposals to do the same thing. No-one believed him. And since the review, he's been looking for a face-saving way to reverse the changes he proposed to Capital Gains rules, which infuriated business. Then we had the Northern Rock fiasco, which he completely lost control of, and which is going to see around 10 billions of our money going down the pan.

Now he's started trying to bully people, who are responding by just spitting in his eye. He's been telling energy suppliers to desist from following nPower's massive increase in prices - only for them to inform Mr Darling that half of the increases were extra Government taxes. So, its been a case of P*** Off Darling. And now the papers are full of him berating mortgage companies for not passing on the whole of the benefit of base rate cuts by the Bank of England. Smaller mortgage lenders will give him the same response - because they have no choice if they are going to stay solvent, because of the credit shortage probems. The announcement was just a PR stunt on the Chancelor's part. Alistair Darling is going to go down as the most unsuccessful Chancellor ever. And one of the quirkiest, most impossible to answer Trivial Pursuits questions of the future will be "Who was the Chancellor who followed Gordon Brown"

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Could be gone for a while.

Posting from No 2 son's handily located house in Maidenhead. Taxi arriving in 15 minutes to take us on the 20 minutes journey to Heathrow. No talk of any trouble with the flight yet. I hope that there is access to the Internet in our hotel in Barbados. There are a few controversial issues I would like to post on. Anyway, look after our country while I'm away. Back on the 20th.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Learning from Plaid.

This is just sky blue thinking - that must not be considered as a serious proposal. Plaid Cymru have adopted an interesting approach to who should be its representatives in the House of Lords, now that the decision to take their place in the Second Chamber has been agreed. They are going to have an internal vote on names that will be submitted to the party membership. This seems to me to be a rather good idea. I wonder whether any other party will decide to go down the same route. It seems rather more democratic than just appointment by some mysteriouis system.

Now , my party has turned its face against the 100% appointment system that operates at present in respect of the House of Lords. I'm not sure that we have a final definitive position on this (I'm sure I will be told if there is) but it will surely be in support of a large majority of members of the 'revising' chamber being directly elected. Reform of the House of Lords is one of those issues which Labour will never get around to acting upon - so its interesting to see Plaid Cymru taking direct action itself. Such a system would not be a huge innovation for the Conservative Party in Wales, in that we effectively do the same thing in respect of the National Assembly already - where some of our AMs are guaranteed to be elected, once they have been elected to a high position on the Party's regional lists by a vote of the party membership. Same thing applies to our MEP, where it would be a seismic shock if the woman we elect to top our list is not elected to the European Parliament.

I should repeat that this is just me thinking aloud - not me putting forward a proposal for serious consideration. Tell me if you think its a daft idea.

Monday, January 07, 2008

The Case for Health Screening

Over the border in England, the Prime Minister has been talking about changing priorities in the NHS in England and focus more on preventative medicine, particularly through 'screening'. In general, I think this is a sensible approach, but I'm not sure what Gordon Brown actually means. To what extent is it just words without any means to act on them. More screening will lead to more need for treatment, which will cost more, certainly in the short term - at a time when the Government has been cutting investment in the very areas that are being targeted.

I have a particular personal interest in screening in relation to Bowel Cancer - and raised the issue on several occasions when I was an Assembly Member. At the time, Wales was lagging behind England in its plans to introduce a screening programme. The Minister responded to my questions by making the entirely reasonable point that there is no value in a screening programme if the infrastructure is not in place to treat the problems that are discovered. And this would take a lot of money and preparation.

Now screening really matters where Bowel Cancer is concerned. The tumour can develop and grow without the owner knowing anything about it for several years - until it is too late to be effectively treated. I was lucky in that my tumour was sufficiently low down in my bowel to make its presence known at a relatively early stage. I discovered the problem and underwent a lower bowel resection which enabled a full recovery. The tumour was at Dukes Stage 1, still within the rectum wall. Every year there are many thousands who are not so lucky. The cancer has spread and often they are faced with chemotherapy treatment and an early death. An effective screening programme would save thousands of lives every year - but in the short term, it would lead to more cost.

There is an unanswerable case to change the focus of health spending towards preventative spending - but lets not pretend that this can be done without more spending in the short term. Announcements without the capacity to deliver are a con. I strongly suspect that Gordon Brown's words are no more than just that.... words without any real meaning.

A Very Good Man Gone.

We had just sung the hymn 'O Lord my God when I in awesome wonder'. That's the one I think of as 'How great thou art' - my second favourite funeral hymn, after only 'The old rugged cross'. I was secreted away in the back row with my mother-in-law. No-one would have known we were there. And then the Minister started quoting from my blog. I couldn't believe it. She said that she had been reading this Internet website written by someone named Glyn Davies who lived in the area, and wanted to share it with the congregation. The blog gets everywhere!

We were at a Service of Thanksgiving for Sydney Pritchard, CBE, who died just before Xmas and whose mortal remains were cremated this morning. I had visited him to deliver my Xmas card on the day that he had died in Welshpool Hospital, aged 94 years. I'd known Sydney for most of my life and published a short post on my blog about him. In the blog post, I'd described him as the best public representative that I've ever known. There were some outstandingly good tributes to him at the Service of Remembrance today. I felt rather proud that this blog sneaked its way in amongst them.

NOTE - I really cannot get the hang of linking to an individual post. So don't mock the best efforts of a technophobe.

Declaring War on the US Greys

Because of my overriding commitment to things Welsh, I am sometimes asked why I want to become a Member of Parliament. I do suspect that sometimes this question is no more than a 'set-up' so that my answer can be attacked! Anyway, one part of my reply usually refers to my intention to become involved in wildlife/countryside issues at the British/European level. This week, Charles Clover in the Telegraph wrote about an issue that I would have been desperately keen to get into, had I been an MP today.

David Maclean, Conservative MP for Penrith and the Border is calling for a select committee inquiry into the problems caused by' invasive species'. The concern behind David's target is the environmental/ecological damage caused by the horrible grey squirrel. I've reached the stage of dislike where I prefer the brown rat. I've read reports that the brown rat makes a lovable pet - and it doesn't infect the entire British population of the native and beautiful Red Squirrel with its lethal pox and threaten it with extinction. Neither does it decimate the songbird population (even more than the domestic cat), and render it virtually impossible to grow traditional high canopy woodland. There is not a single word to be said in favour of the Grey Squirrel - except 'extinction' perhaps.

Whoever imported the Grey Squirrel into our islands from America committed a heinous crime against the countryside of Britain. Now that we realise the damage that this vicious little horror visits upon us, we should be mobilising the nation to rid itself of as many of the 2.5 million that are currently rampaging across most of England and Wales. A template for waging this war already exists on the Island of Anglesey. There isn't much time to lose if the Red Squirrel is to be saved. War should be declared as soon as a plan of attack is ready.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Why I 'Blog'

I blog because I quite like to write about what I happen to be thinking about - and I suppose it helps me arrange my thoughts in order. I'm particularly attracted to the bizarre, which might or might not amuse someone else. I do not blog to attract visitors, even though the readership is much higher than I ever expected it to be. I do admit that I rather like having visitors - and I like them to comment. Not many of them do though. I don't spend much time at my keyboard, but I try to post every day, and respond to comments whenever I can. I also like to read other blogs - probably about 10 on a daily basis, and another 20 at least once a week.

The comments I like best are those which set out to challenge my opinion, perhaps cause me to rethink my position. I've always thought it the height of arrogance to enter into any debate totally devoid of willingness to consider another opinion. It always struck me as odd that as an Assembly Member I was required to sit through debates, supposedly listening to the arguments, when we had already taken a 'group' decision about which way I was going to vote. I do accept that it is the way politics works - but this is my blog, not the Senedd debating chamber.

Some comments are great. I've just read an anonymous comment on my last post, which was about benefit reform, which challenges what I wrote in a way that stimulates me. Recently, a comment under the name of 'frankie' caused me to arrange a meeting with a local headmaster to discuss an issue about the distribution of condoms to schoolchildren, that I posted on. The profuse commenter, Dr Christopher North always has something interesting to say. Other comments are not so constructive - along the lines of 'I don't agree with you, so you must be an idiot and I'm not going to vote for you'. Of course, most blogs eliminate these sort of comments by 'comment moderation', a form of censorship that I do not want to resort to, if I can possibly help it. I even have comments which assume that unless everything I write is agreed, I am not worth the vote. I suspect that there isn't anyone that I agree with about everything.

And then there is the question of limited time, and the impact that has on my posts. There are other things I want to do with my life. Normally, when politicians prepare speeches or press statements, they take hours over it (though I admit that I didn't very often). A blog post often takes only the time needed to type it. Opinions are inevitably less considered, and more subject to amendment through debate and reconsideration. So, I hope you will carry on visiting, and commenting - and if you make a decent argument I might change my thinking - and then I might succeed in changing someone else's thinking. Its how the world makes progress.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Cameron's Big Speech

Front page of today's Daily Telegraph reports on a speech David Cameron is going to make next Tuesday. It could be the speech that neither Tony Blair nor Gordon Brown have ever had the political courage to make. And it may be the speech that persuades many more people (including even Simon Heffer perhaps) that it's time for a Cameron Government. How are we going to reduce the millions of people on benefit, both unemployment and incapacity - and what role is there for the private sector to play in delivering the policy. This is a very controversial territory - and it will not be the first time that David Cameron has ventured into it. He has spoken before about his interest in the Wisconson approach - which may well turn out to be too ruthless for the UK taste, but is in the right general direction.

Whenever I've been accused of being a bit of a wimpish Tory, I like to shift the debate onto this subject (or abortion) where I'm unquestionably a man of the right. I like the idea of anyone wanting to claim unemployment benefit being required to do something for it (after a suitable period of time) - even if it is a job that has only marginal direct benefit to society. I also believe that we should introduce a tough regime in respect of access to incapacity benefit. And I think we should expect single parents to work as soon as the youngest child reaches the official school starting age. This just seems to me to be common sense - and fair to all those who do work, and who have a genuine need of benefit

I note that the Telegraph report refers to David not having ruled out putting a time limit on some benefits. I don't know whether this is true, but I would take some persuading to support this. It seems to me that if someone qualifies for benefit, it should be paid.

In his Saturday Column, Simon Heffer goes too far for me - no surprise there. He blames current high benefit dependency on poor educational standards, on unfettered immigration, and on consistently weak Governments who will not tackle such a difficult problem. I can go along with all this to a degree. But I don't agree with his blaming the Minimum wage. I understand the principle that wages should be based on a contract agreed between employer and employee, depending on what the market dictates, but I do not accept that the minimum wage does the damage he claims - and won't do if it continues to be set at the right level. I would be surprised if any Conservative Government would want to undo this Labour introduction. It doesn't read as if Simon is totally on board, which is a relief because I'm not at all sure a Heffer manifesto would ever win a majority, let alone in 2009.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Starting 2008 with a 'Bang'.

I'm told that today's issue of my local weekly, the Montgomeryshire County Times has a headline about our local MP, Lembit Opik 'Starting the new year with a 'bang'. My informant was clearly implying some sort of innuendo was implied - but I said that this could not be. I know that the media have reported on some very personal details of his private life in the past, but the County Times would never stoop so low. What seems to have happened is that the newspaper had wanted a comment from him on the marriage of his former fiancee, Sian Lloyd, who married in a haze of love last weekend - and he was available for a media opportunity at a local shooting range. Perhaps he's seen all these photographs of Vladimir Putin, armed and stripped to the waist, looking manly. In fact I saw our intrepid 'hunter' when the BBC showed a clip from the same media opp two days ago. He was handling the 12 bore shotgun as if it was a musical instrument. Anyway, it wouldn't surprise me to see the headline, 'Bang Bang Lembit' appearing in Private Eye next week.

Stopping the lights going out.

E.ON UK wants to replace two existing coal-fired units at a power station in Kent with two cleaner units. This one billion pounds investment would be the first new coal-fired power station capacity to be built in the UK for 24 years. Unsurprisingly, there is a bit of hoo-hah about whether the Government should give this development the thumbs up. I'm in two minds about this. Its one of these 'energy' issues where these seems to be an argument for both sides. (Unfortunately I can't find the story in the Telegraph Online to provide the link. Its in today's edition)

The case for is that the new units would be far more efficient than conventional coal-fired power stations, and would reduce the number of new nuclear power stations that will be built and reduce the number of landscapes that will be destroyed by wind turbines. The case against is that it would still be a significant polluter which would undermine the UK Government's commitment to reduce Carbon Dioxide emissions, notwithstanding its greater efficiency

The debate about the shape of the UK's future energy supply network is going to be a dominating political issue throughout 2008, driven principally by the Government's imminent decision to give the green light to new nuclear power generating capacity. Hopefully, in a year's time, we will have enough information to make a judgement about whether environmentalists should support or oppose E.ON UK's proposal.

Dan Munford on Platform

My Montgomeryshire Conservative colleague, Dan Munford has published an essay on ConservativeHome Platform. It deserves wide readership - especially in Montgomeryshire. Dan is one of a group of Montgomeryshire based Conservatives who are making a mark on Conservative politics.

Big day for Welshpool

For the last year and more, the Local Planning Authority has been considering a planning application that will transform the town of Welshpool, in Mid Wales. Essentially it involves relocating the livestock market out of the town and building a retailing park on the existing market site - in other words a new major supermarket. It also involves redesigning the town's parking provision and the traffic system. I've supported the principle of this development since it was first proposed, because without the supermarket, there is not enough money available to build the new livestock market. The only aspect that concerns me is that it should be a 'quality' supermarket. A Tesco would do nicely.

This morning the Montgomeryshire Committee of the Powys Planning Committee (which will take the final decision on January 22nd), decided to back the scheme. This is a real big deal for Welshpool, a town which serves as the 'gateway' to Mid Wales. Its taken a long time to reach today's position. I hope that there are no more hiccups - especially the theory that I've heard that the 'quality' supermarkets will not see it as viable. This argument has become weaker of late as the proposals for a Tesco at nearby Newtown seems to have run into the buffers because of fears about impact on the through traffic. The sidelining of Mid Wales by the National Assembly and its refusal to make any progress with a Newtown bypass is blighting the town. It really isn't good enough. Newtown people are going to be very cross when they realise that their town is losing out to Welshpool because of the absence of a bypass. But I am pleased that we are making some real progress at last in preventing the 'leakage' of spend from Mid Wales to Shropshire. A good news day indeed.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Thomas Leyland - We Need You.

Been working for S4/C's Wedi Saith today. Heledd Cynwal was producing an item on the Leighton Hall complex, near Welshpool. I know a fair bit about this subject through an old friend who also happens to be something of an authority, John Markwick. He was along today as my unofficial 'adviser'. John used to be Land Agent for Powys County Council, who still own most of the land and the main block of farm buildings.

The huge sums of money that were needed to develop the complex derived from a fortune made from shipping ( and probably the associated slavery trade) and banking by a successful businessman named Thomas Leyland. The visionary behind the development was a descendant of Thomas Leyland named John Naylor. It included the magnificent Leighton Hall, Leighton Church, a truly revolutionary system of renewable energy supply which involved pumping a fair proportion of the River Severn up to the top of Long Mountain, and the wonderful range of farm buildings. The kennels, the stables and the poultry house have been acquired by private owners and are well maintained today. All of these buildings will feature on the programme.

John Naylor would be very upset to learn that despite all of his innovative work, the complex is best remembered today for a much despised coniferous tree, which was first discovered at the famous farmstead by John Naylor's son Christopher - who changed his surname to Leyland in order to take over the family's banking interests. The name Leyland is now known throughout Britain, and further afield, because it was given to the Cupressus Leylandii, which grows so quickly that it becomes a solid six foot hedge in three years. Problem is that it carries on growing at the same rate, and caused so many neighbour disputes that a new Act of Parliament was passed to deal with the problem. The High Hedges Act became law a couple of years ago.

Sadly, the main complex is falling into disrepair. The Council doesn't have enough income from the Estate to maintain it. There is a desperate need for some form of restoration trust to look after what is a very important part of our history. Wedi Saith is going out at 7.00 pm on Wednesday, 9th January if you are interested in watching it.

What Universities Do

This blog frequently champions the wisdom of utilising the dynamism and inventiveness of the private sector. But even I've never been an advocate of 'the market' in the sexual exploitation of the female of the species - even if I do think Harriet Harman's campaign to abolish what is often termed the oldest profession known to mankind is unlikely to succeed. Well. today we learn that Macaque monkeys have developed their own 'biological market' based on supply and demand whereby females not only 'charge' for services rendered but vary the price according to the market.

According to research carried out by Michael Gumert of Nanyang Technical University, Singapore, the price charged is in 'grooming units'. It seems that the fewer the number of females in a particular area, the more units are charged. Where there's an over supply of females, the price is 8 minutes, while if an under supply exists the price rises to 16 minutes. Mr Gumert's identification of this 'biological market' is supported by other research carried out at Strasbourg University in France and the Humboldt University in Berlin.

Following this discovery, we should expect the Labour Government to bring forward legislation to abolish 'grooming' by male Macaque monkeys. We should expect Harriet Harman to insist that such a measure be included in the next Queen's Speech.

My New Year Wish List

I've just sent my New Year Wish List to my local newspaper, the Montgomeryshire County Times. When Dominic rang me yesterday, my first instinct was to be frivolous - but I remembered the last time. I wrote a light hearted piece - and my office started receiving letters from readers comparing me unfavourably with all the other contributors. Once bitten....... Anyway this is what I sent.

"At a personal level, my dominating wish is that good health and happiness will be enjoyed throughout 2008 by all those that I hold dear.

At the local level, I hope that Montgomeryshire and its public services start to receive a fair deal from the National Assembly, that we don't cover too much of our beautiful countryside in wind turbines, and that our sheep farmers start making a profit again.

At a Welsh level, I hope that the National Assembly performs in a way which wins greater respect from the people of Wales, and that the Welsh Language continues along the path of recovery.

And at the international level, I hope that the peoples of Kenya, Pakistan, Iraq and other of the world's trouble spots do not fall into civil wars, destroying democracy and seeing millions of innocent people die."

Nothing frivolous about that - and its also exactly what I do think. Now I'm off down to Leighton Hall Farm to record a piece for Wedi Saith. The last time I was interviewed by Heledd Cynwal, I made a joke about sweaty armpits in the hot studio. Well its about - 3 at the moment and the interview is outside. There will be no sweaty armpits today.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Democracy under threat

Late evening, but I've found the Internet where I can check up on my blog and read about what's been happening in the world - and its all rather depressing. Events in Kenya are deeply worrying for anyone who believes that democracy is the best form of government. It follows the equally shocking events in Pakistan last week . In both countries the violence and death toll could easily grow - and grow hugely. The list of countries where attempts to establish stable democratic governments are in trouble is disappointingly long.

This leads inevitably to contemplation about our own democratic system. Seems to me that even in the UK, democracy is not in the best of health. The proportion of the voting population which has any real interest in what candidates, think or have to say is diminishing - particularly amongst young people. Even though I try quite hard to engage with voters, it is difficult to find people who are open to be influenced by policies or opinion. This is one reason why I enjoy blogging, particularly when the blog attracts comments that challenge my posts - preferably from people who do not resort to abuse!!

A disappointing aspect of British politics is the dishonesty involved in it - and I don't mean criminal dishonesty. I sometimes listen to statements being made that are knowingly untrue or are deliberately designed to deceive. I accept that in a party system, it is sometimes necessary to argue the 'party line' even if you don't agree with it - I've done it myself (but I'm not going to say when). And I often hear quotes used which have the sole purpose of misinterpreting what's been said. I've heard politicians saying one thing to one audience and the opposite to another. This isn't honest. Even worse, it leads to a general disinterest in our democracy.

And then there's the focus on frivolity. I've listened to a lengthy and serious debate in the National Assembly , with the only media report of it being the one totally stupid comment that devalued the whole occasion. And then there is the obsession with celebrity. I've just caught the tail end of Newsnight when it was reported that Mike Huckabee may have won the Iowa Primary because he played the guitar with some noted celebrity. What's to be done I ask myself? Perhaps I'd better go learn how to play the guitar.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Now its holiday time.

New Year's Day and feeling stuffed. Eaten too much, drunk too much and not taken nearly enough exercise. The recycling lorry has never seen anything like it. Our house has been like a 10 day 'festival of excess'. The sort of thing that brought the Romans down. I did manage to finish the Francis Urquart trilogy by Michael Dobbs and all the nougat and touron. But now Tim and Adrienne have gone to Ireland, Pat and Verity have gone back to Maidenhaid, Sally has gone back to Nottingham and tomorrow Edward returns to work in Cork - and in a week's time Karen and baby Ffion join him. Our house is going to be so so quiet.

Anyway, we need some time to recover. Tomorrow, we re off to Sally's in Nottingham with some furnishings for her house - and one or two odd jobs. Friday/Saturday we're down to Cardiff to check over the flat and catch up with Edna Mopbucket for some gossip. And next Monday, we head down to Heathrow for onward passage to Barbados for 10 days (assuming Virgin Aircraft employees haven't all taken Richard Branson's advice and gone to work elsewhere). I'm taking my running kit with me. I hope we don't have a surprise election while we're away. This is my way of saying that blogging will be sporadic over the next three weeks, and will depend on my access to the Internet. Won't be back full time til 20th January.

2008 Predictions.

As always my hopes (and fears) become confused with my predictions as we start another year. And the dominating hope (and fear) is that all those dear to me enjoy good health and happiness. The 'big event' in 2008 which we already know about is the wedding of No 3 son, Tim to his Irish fiancee, Adrienne. The wedding will take place in the magnificent church in our village of Berriew, and the reception will follow in our garden. And its on the anniversary of our own wedding on 26th July, 1969. It will be the first Catholic wedding ever to take place in Berriew Church. I predict that it will be a very happy occasion.

I predict that there will not be a General Election in 2008. I do think that Gordon Brown planned for one, but his ludicrous dithering last September put an end to that. It will be called for early summer, 2009. It seems to me that Gordon Brown is so damaged that he will never recover any significant lead in the opinion polls, and will go to the country as soon as he thinks he has any chance of winning. He knows his history, and will not want to go the full term.

I predict that the relationship between the National Assembly for Wales and the UK Parliament will become very fraught as the inbuilt 'conflict mechanism' which is the Government of Wales Act delivers the inevitable ... conflict. This would become an even bigger problem if the architect of this stupid system of Legislative Competence Orders, Peter Hain is removed from the Welsh Office, for whatever reason - and I predict that he will be.

There will be increasing tension in the Wales Labour Party as contenders to replace Rhodri Morgan start maneuvering for position. I predict that it will come down to a contest between Carwyn Jones and Leighton Andrews. I fancy Leighton to mop up the 'Not Carwyn' votes rather than Andrew Davies - mainly as a consequence of the responsibilities the two of them will have over the next year. I just think he will appeal to Labour MPs more, as they become increasingly estranged from the National Assembly as the rows increase about Legislative Competence Orders. During the summer, Jenny Randerson will replace Mike German as leader of the Liberal Democrats in the Assembly after a bitter contest. It will be reported on page 22 of the Western Mail and very few people will notice.

The Labour Government will announce that several Nuclear Power Stations are to be built. Gordon Brown will be out of the country when the announcement is made, and the reason given for this decision will be to combat climate change.

Hilary Clinton will be elected the first female President of the United States, beating Mike Huckabee in a close and bitter election. She will prove to be a disaster and will last only one term.

England will win the six nations, while Wales will beat only Italy and Scotland in close matches. Despite this, there will be no criticism of Warren Gatland, but Chief Executive, Roger Lewis will become more of a target of fans criticism - the price of taking a high public profile. Joe Calzhage will beat Bernard Hopkins and retire undefeated (Please Joe). David Haye will beat Enzo Maccarinelli, but it will be a good enough fight to demand a return.

Governments in Wales, Westminster and Scotland will conclude that their rush to cover the uplands of our beautiful countryside with wind turbines do not deliver enough energy to justify the damage that they are doing. Every Government's current renewable energy target will be missed.

I predict that there will be pressure put on all politicians to stop 'blogging', as concern grows about the possibility of 'gaffes' and 'independent thought'. I also anticipate that political 'blogs' will grow in popularity and number.

And finally, a hope rather than a prediction is that there should be a by-election in Montgomeryshire - as a result of the current MP being asked to take over as a TV talk show host and to ghost a column for Hello Magazine.