Friday, February 29, 2008


Went to a presentation of a proposal for a new wind farm near the rural village of Trefeglwys, in upland Montgomeryshire tonight. 150-200 people turned up at the Village Hall, almost all against the proposal. I had a particular interest, because the developer had 'blackballed' me as a suitable person to be Chair of the meeting. The Community Council of Trefeglwys had asked me to chair this public meeting, but the company refused to accept their wishes because of my position as President of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales. Even though I had given an assurance that I would chair in a totally impartial way.

This bizarre 'blackballing' took an amusing turn this week. The company had decided that it wanted the local MP, Lembit Opik to chair the meeting. At the last minute, he pulled out because he wanted to appear on Any Questions. The Trefeglwys Council, or at least some of the councillors were not impressed - and went public. Front Page of the local daily newspaper, the Shropshire Star and a prominent report in the universally read, Montgomeryshire County Times. The MP went to a Council meeting last night to apologise. Councillors told me that they have never seen him looking so humble. He's promised to pay for a local referendum to assess public opinion. And a letter of abject apology was left on every seat in the hall. And I'm told he's promised to meet everyone present. Wow. He really must be worried. There's a simple rule. If you promise to attend a meeting, it is just not acceptable to do something else you judge more important instead, at least, not without causing offence.

Anyway, I asked a series of questions that demonstrated to the developers that I don't have horns growing out of my head. As it happens, a good friend of mine, Peter English chaired the meeting in splendid fashion. The planning application, which is for 11 turbines will be submitted in the next 6 weeks.

The Death Shed

We went out for supper to 'The Walls' in Oswestry last night. Its a superb building (a converted school) and generally a very good and reasonably priced restaurant. It also has an attractive architect designed smoking extension. There's a big sign on it which reads 'The Coughin' Shed'. I thought it was rather amusing. Some of you might think that the alternative spelling should have been used.

A Referendum - when.

Just been watching Dragon's Eye where the only issue tonight was whether we should have a referendum on granting law making powers to the National Assembly. Or more accurately, whether we should grant those powers by referendum before or in 2011 - or carry on granting them bit by bit as is happening now. The programme was based on a BBC sponsored poll, published today, which recorded that 49% supported law making powers, while 42% were against. While this confirms a trend in public opinion towards law making powers, the result is far too close for any meaningful prediction to be deduced about the likely result of any referendum.

I have to admit that I found the whole discussion hopelessly confused - and as soon as I saw the studio set-up, I knew it would be. Most of the discussion seemed to be about whether or not law making powers should be granted, in principle. Only David Melding made the crucial point that law making powers are already being granted under the Government of Wales Act (through the back door as David so accurately said). In passing, I have to say how much I detest this meaningless phrase that Mike German uses about giving the Assembly 'the tools to do the job'. Problem is that 7 people discussing an issue in the studio never produces anything sensible. If there were to be a referendum, I hope that there would some more informative debate than the disjointed non-discussion that I've just witnessed.

The only really interesting bit was the interview with Dafydd Iwan. He said "If Labour backtrack over the referendum by 2011, the coalition will be over and done with". Since it looks increasingly likely that there will not be a referendum by 2011,I thought Rhun missed a trick by not majoring in on this comment, particularly since the father of the current act, Peter Hain had said very clearly this afternoon (on BBC) that he couldn't foresee a referendum by 2011. So when is the balloon going to go up? The Lib Dems are already licking their lips.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Peter Hain AM?

Oh how you laughed when this blog speculated that Peter Hain might turn his attention towards the National Assembly for Wales, following the turbulence in his Westminster-based political career. Far be-neath the great man's talents is what you said - at least those of you who posted your opinions. Well, as driving home from South Wales tonight, I switched on Radio Wales to listen to Good Evening Wales, and there he was, sounding for all the world as though he were an Assembly Member already. And a very sensible one at that.

There is no other way of putting it. Peter Hain launched a huge attack on the Assembly Government's overall strategy. The spin doctors will be busy, pretending that's not an onion skin between Peter and Rhodri Morgan. Even if its a great concrete wall. And I agreed with almost every word of it. "Too much focus on the public sector". "The public sector in Wales in too big and the private sector is too small". "There's been too much focus on free provision and too much taking of soft options". "There must be a major re-prioritising of the Assembly Government's policies towards encouraging a bigger Private Sector". And plenty more of this sort of stuff. Felicity Evans had a better interview on her hands than she realised. Oh, and he had something very sensible to say about the referendum as well - which I'll post on later on tonight - if I'm home in time. I've been away all day and I'm taking Mrs D out for supper.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Difference between Officers and Members.

Joined Welshpool Town Council tonight for a discussion about issues that matter to Welshpool. I'm really lucky that local Councils are willing to discuss their concerns with me. Big help in my efforts to develop a 'personal' aspect to my election manifesto. 17 of Montgomeryshire's Town and Community Councils have agreed to similar meetings. I was deeply impressed by the scale of activity and ambition of this Council. Welshpool is Montgomeryshire's second biggest town, and its local government is in very good hands.

One important issue raised was Powys County Council's plan to undermine local democracy by abolishing the 'Montgomeryshire' Planning Committee. Bit of history here. Powys Council became the 'unitary' local authority in 1994. A most dreadful mistake. Destroyed local democracy in Mid Wales. In an effort to limit the damage to democracy and in recognition of the huge size of Powys, and the fact that there is a range of mountains that separates the Northern half of this 'artificial' county from its Southern half, the establishing Act allowed for a 'shire' Committee to cover Montgomeryshire (with separate arrangements for Ranorshire and Breconshire). But the great centralist's at County Hall have always hated this arrangement. And they are trying yet again to do something about it - by trying to castrate the 'shires' through abolishing their 'planning' function. Totally disgraceful. Instead of Montgomeryshire Councillors deciding on Montgomeryshire planning applications as has existed for always, there will now be 15 Councillors drawn from across this huge county and 'trained' up to form an itinerant committee. The great god being quoted is 'consistency'.

This issue was raised by the redoubtable Cllr. Annie Holloway tonight. Well done. Cllr. David Senior said that this was an attempt to transform councillors into officers. Well said. And then Cllr. Dennis Thompson said "Officers are there to provide the expertise, while Councillors are there to provide the common sense". Well said again. I do so hope that Councillors stand up and tell their officers to get stuffed on this one.

MP in a hurry.

Congratulations to my very good friend, David Davies, MP for Monmouth. According to Kerron Cross and others, David was quickest in the one mile run across Westminster in aid of Sports Relief in a time of just over five minutes. David is already Westminster's 'skipping champion'. He always was a man in a hurry.


For the first 18 months of this blog's existance, I did not moderate comments at all, and rarely did I have to delete anything. And then I started moderating, on the basis that I'd publish everything - except what which might be actionable, or was pointlessly rude and offensive, or create collateral damage by causing pain to entirely innocent people. Well today I've refused to publish three comments. Two because their only purpose was to be offensive. It seems that one was disappointed by the lack of intellectual depth in my postings. In its way that's pleasing! This is a blog, not a series of policy statements. And while I quite like the fact that approaching 300 visitors a day call in, no-one is forced to, and neither should they if it causes them to be so bored that they want to write offensive remarks. So **** **** **** **** **** **** **** *** - with all due respect!

And the other comment was an entirely fair and accurate one from Dr Christopher Woods, my most frequent commenter. Its just that I don't want this blog to cause any additional pain to the family of the late Dr Phil Williams. Christopher has told us of his regard for Phil and I want to leave it at that. Sorry Christopher.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Taking Money by Deception.

Peter Hopkins from Barry used to work for Legal and General. Now he's unemployed, having been sacked for gross misconduct. Silly man was on sick leave, suffering from a stress related illness, but was caught working as a magician under the pseudonym, Mr Hocus Pocus. He claimed in his defence that performing as a magician would help his stress.

Well, excuse me but I find this a preposterous defence. Not many people know this, but I used to be a 'magician' myself. I was trained by Mr Bill Tombs, Montgomeryshire's very own Paul Daniels at the time when our children were very young. I've faced a few varied challenges in my life, but nothing as stressful as the magic performances I put on. The last straw was a 30 minute show I put on for the kids at Welshpool rugby club at a Xmas Party in the 70s. The event had been well publicised and all the parents turned up as well. The clubhouse was packed. I had the entire crowd eating out of my hand and was on the verge of a magnificent triumph, when it all went wrong.

This is what happened. I asked Phill Bowen, one of our second rows to act as my assistant. The trick involved me putting a 'magic' funnel down the top of Phill's underpants and pouring a pint of water into them. Now of course the 'magic' funnel had a lining, creating a cavity which retained the water. The trick was that I was going to transfer the funnel to the bottom of Phill's trouser leg, move a secret little panel accross, and let the water run out onto the floor, the whole thing being accompanied by some appropriate magic words. Problem was I poured the water into the wrong hole, straight onto Phill's manhood. Oh yes - I forgot to mention that the water was steaming hot to enhance the effect. Actually, the audience thought it was the best magic trick they'd ever seen, and the best bit apparently was the magician hightailing it off the stage with his assistant in hot pursuit, screaming in pain and vowing revenge. The audience thought that it was all put on as part of the act!. Phill does still speaks to me - but never with the quite the same timbre his voice used to have.

Mr Hopkins problem was that one of his workmates was in the audience and reported him. I did think it was a bit harsh to sack him though, even though it was his second offence. It would have been OK if he hadn't charged a fee. I suppose you could say he was taking money by deception!

What a bunch of kids.

Lib Dem MP, Edward Davey made himself and his party look like a bunch of spoilt brats today. I realise that Nick Clegg, the Lib Dems leader is desperate to distract public gaze from his failure to honour his party's promise that the British public would be given a referendum on the new EU Treaty (which is substantially the same as the EU Constitution which led to the promise being made). I've only seen this sort of childishness once before - when Dafydd Wigley led Plaid Cymru out of the Assembly Chamber because Lynne Neagle (her again) wouldn't allow him to intervene on her speech. Only time I ever saw Dafydd make a pillock of himself.

It wouldn't be so bad if Davey and Clegg actually meant it. The position is that the Lib Dems tried to manipulate a vote on whether the UK should remain in the EU, even though there is no demand for such a vote (except from Ukip of course). The idea is that when this totally bizarre proposition was carried (as it would be), these backsliders would claim it as the vote they had reneged on. The whole stunt was pure presentation. It really is no wonder that the public hold politics and politicians in such low esteem. Ed Davey, Nick Clegg were rumbled and they should be ashamed of themselves.

Morse Country

Been to a conference at Green College, Oxford today, and after lunch climbed to the top of the Radcliffe Observatory, which is in the grounds. Its not a high building, but affords great views over low-rise Oxford. There's hardly a building over three stories in the entire place, which means that the many spires can be clearly seen. I half expected to see Inspector Morse's old jaguar in the quadrangle. Only thing missing was a dead body. For most of its life the building has been home to medical research, but its only really suitable for telescopes. Since its mostly glass, its too hot and cold for most uses. It was built to observe a display of some sort by planet Venus, but in true British fashion was finished four years after Venus had been and gone. Today, the Observatory is not used for much at all.

The conference was organised by RESEC (Research in Specialist and Elderly Care), and was concerned with how we approach treatment of the range of illnesses that collectively we refer to as dementia. My interest in neurological illness flows from the work I'm doing for The European Care Group. Its shocking that there are predicted to be 2 million sufferers of the many forms of dementia in 15 years time. I'm not at all convinced that Government has woken up to the implications of this. I'm very pleased that European Care are taking training in the dementia field seriously and supporting research through RESEC. We're planning another Conference in Wales. Its time we started treating the elderly with more respect. This blog is not often given over to moralising. Sorry.

He didn't have time

Mrs D has already decided on the epitaph to go on my headstone - except that she also tells me that she's going to burn me. So it will be only a virtual epitaph. "He didn't have time" - and I don't have time to blog tonight. I've been involved in an important 'watershed' meeting of the Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust tonight and have just arrived home - and I'm desperately keen to finish 'Angels and Demons' before I nod off. This is the second Dan Brown book I've read this year, following my reading of 'Digital Fortress' when on holiday in January. I know its almost too fantastic and the plot is ridiculously far fetched - but I've quite enjoyed it. Are there any other writers of a similar style please? I'm off to Oxford at 6.00 in the morning to a conference about neurological illnesses, which is becoming a major interest for me. Hoping to blog tomorrow night.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

There's only one Ieuan

Just watching Ieuan talking about yesterday's match on BBC Wales. He's just said that "Wales cannot afford to sit back on their oars". Incomparable.

Do AMs work as hard as MPs?

Trawling my favourite blogs tonight after a weekend away and I see that Miss Wagstaffe has a photograph up of a full chamber in the House of Commons for Prime Minister's Questions. 'Sights you don't see in the Senedd' she/he entitles it. Not sure this is fair. There are around 650 (don't know exactly) against 60 and they can sit where they want, while AMs have their own individual seats. And there's only room for around 400 (don't know this exactly either) on the green benches anyway. And there is the problem that the front row seats are reserved for Ministers who tend not to be there.

But there is another reason, which was one of the issues that Alun Davies and I discussed with Patrick Hanaan on Called to Order last Friday. And that is the sheer boringness of some of the exchanges. The clips that Patrick used were Rhodri and Nick Bourne having a verbal joust, over several questions and answers when they seemed to totally agree with each other. It did sound a bit silly. I had to agree that the aspect of Assembly activity that I didn't miss were the 'Questions to Ministers' sessions - especially FMQs. Main problem is that everything is so contrived or so predictable or so repetitive. If a question is at all interesting, Rhodri won't answer it. And he gets away with it, because he has the most amazing headful of facts and information that he can talk for so long about any subject under the sun that he can totally anaesthetise the brain of the questioner and the listening public.

I must admit that I resented having to sit in the Chamber listening to what passes for questions and answers, which rarely provided any new information, when I had a stack of work to do in my office. What happens of course is that AMs bring work down to the Chamber with them. Ministers might even be caught signing Xmas cards! AMs might even be caught blogging!

Mike German

The only issue of interest at the Lib Dem Conference seems to have been "who follows Mike German". It looks like the ambitious Kirsty Williams to me. The 'anybody but Kirsty' candidate will probably be Jenny Randerson. Peter Black says he doesn't want to do it - and I believe him (Sorry Eleanor but I just can't see it). Mike looked very relaxed during the interviews. The ermine will not be long delayed. I suggest Baron Knowall, and I mean that in the nicest possible way because whenever I served on a committee with him, he actually did know it all. So much so that sometimes I used to depend on him. If I found myself in a committee meeting, not having had time to properly read all the papers, I always tried to make sure I didn't say anything until after Mike had spoken. He always enjoyed regaling us with his comprehensive grasp of every detail - and I trusted him to be right.

But he also had an amazing capacity to generate antipathy. I could never completely understand why. This came home to me when he served as 'countryside' Minister in the First Assembly's Lib-Lab Government. For some reason, even when delivering good news he just couldn't connect. But I always liked Mike German and he made me laugh, sometimes even when intending to!. This sounds like an obituary! I'm still a bit surprised that they managed to prise him out of the Leader's Office - and I'll only really believe it when I see them handing him his gold clock.


Home after a weekend in Cardiff dominated by the oval ball. On Friday, it was a 'guest' appearance for the Assembly team against an Italian representative team from Florence. I can report that the Azzurri temperament shone through. The last quarter saw such an impressive display of Italian 'handbags', hair pulling and finger pointing that the ref sent one of them off and blew the whistle five minutes early - thus avoiding a diplomatic incident. It was more fractious than choosing a pope. Mind you, I have to say the first clout was cast by one or two of our over enthusiastic youngsters. We won 14-0, and Heol y Cyw RUFC were fantastic.

Alun Cairns was the only current politician playing - though Vale of Glamorgan farmer/AM, Andrew Davies turned up with intentions, but failed to survive the warm up. Andrew is in that interregnum between losing his muscle tone and losing his speed to the extent that his muscles are not threatened by over exertion. The Italians in the Clubhouse afterwards reminded me of why I used to so love playing the game. Noisy, anarchic, uninhibited lovers of life. I hope I get an invite to Florence for next season's game.

And then to the Millenium Stadium, having enjoyed hospitality at St David's Hall. Very nice too. First 'hospitality' invite I've had since being drop kicked out of the Assembly. I've been trying to persuade myself that we are good enough to win at Croke Park since the great day at 'HQ' three weeks ago. We have moved on, but so have O'Driscoll's men. It still looks one hell of an ask to me. I think we can do France - who looked unbelievable uninventive yesterday.

First half we were not good enough, and deserved to go in behind I thought. Second half we were something else. Last quarter was a stroll. 5 minutes to go and I had Lee Byrne as my man of the match, and he just about held on despite another late display of pyrotechnics from Shane Williams. Couldn't pick out a forward for mention. They were a good solid unit with no obvious weakness. I thought Stephen Jones was terrific as well and Henson was good too. Funny how someone so 'glamorous' off the field is so unglamourously solid and dependable on it.

I watched most of the Irish game without hearing the commentary. I hope Wales take more advantage if the Irish start as slowly as they did against the Scots. I just couldn't get into the game in Paris. Sure, it was tense and uncompromising and the French tried to run everything - but there was no innovation and the English were too good to allow any room for French flair. Must say that Brian Moore's language is becoming more course by the game. It won't be long until the 'f' word slips out.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Convention Update

An issue that this blog posts on regularly is the relationship between the UK Parliament and the National Assembly. Its one of the main issues which drives my desire to become a Member of Parliament. There are two sides to any transfer of legislative power, and in my opinion, the discussions at Westminster are every bit as important as debate in Cardiff Bay. MPs are crucial to the success of this process. So I like to keep an eye on what the Chair of the proposed Convention that is being set up to look at this issue is saying. Yesterday, Sir Emyr Jones Parry was speaking to 'Wales in London' about the issue.

I think Sir Emyr is wise not to commit himself to a referendum on law making powers at this stage, because his Convention may well decide not to recommend one. Currently, those who still don't accept devolution are generally opposed to the idea of a referendum. And in 18 months time, those who do accept it may begin to agree with them, if the system of transferring power by Legislative Competence Orders which has been in place since last May proves to be successful.

Since the Convention was announced, the only worthwhile purpose I've been able to identify for it is engagement with those who oppose the whole idea of devolution. This is why I was pleased to read that Sir Emyr intends to listen to what he calls 'ordinary' people, (Y Werin), rather than those who are closely involved in the political world. Regular readers of this blog know that I personally favour law making powers being invested in the National Assembly (in devolved subject areas). I expected many people, some in my own party, to disagree with me about this. Now this is fair enough, but I've been disappointed that those who disagree through comments on this blog, don't seem to want to engage in serious debate. Comments tend to be anonymous and quite abusive.

Devolution is changing the way Wales is being governed. Many people remain unhappy about this process. The challenge facing Sir Emyr's Convention is to persuade these devo-skeptics to engage in debate in a considered and realistic way. I must admit that I would not be too unhappy to stick with the current power transferring system if a wide consensus could be created in support of it. The next 18 months are going to be very interesting.

Hitting the Spot

My subject today is sex education. I accept that things have moved on since I was an innocent country lad at secondary school, when the only lessons in human reproduction and associated matters available to us were conducted informally behind 'the bike shed'. This should not be taken literally because I don't remember there actually being a bike shed at Llanfair Caereinion High School when I was there. Though when I cast my mind back, there was an old tin shed where the lawn mowers etc. were kept, which may well have served the same purpose.

Anyway I called in for a chat with Mr Toal, the headmaster of Welshpool High School today, just to keep myself briefed on current education matters. In passing I did mention the local fame he achieved when he supposedly banned the distribution of condoms to sixth formers prior to each weekend a month or so ago. It seems that the packs were being distributed by a voluntary body and contained 6 condoms in 3 separate 'flavours', together with lubricant. I refrained from asking if they were chocolate, strawberry and vanilla! Things have indeed moved on since my schooldays. During the fuss, concerned parents were writing to the paper, protesting that Mr Toal was as good as encouraging teenage pregnancies. Call me an old fashioned reactionary if you must, but all I can say is that I found Mr Toal to be an extremely responsible headmaster, who was concerned for the welfare of the children in his charge, and who was concerned about a voluntary body coming onto school premises to distribute its weekend packs.

In any case, who needs a bike shed when the Daily Telegraph will tell you all you could possibly want to know - and more. There was an article today about 'the secrets of the G spot. Is nothing sacred? I've heard about these G spot things before and I didn't know if they actually existed. Its one of those things only women know and talk about. But it seems that Dr Jannini of the University of L'Aquiela in Italy has found a method of tracking them down. So far his research has been confined to just 20 ladies, so he is planning a larger scale trial. I'm 'guesting' for the Assembly rugby team against the Italian Parliament team tomorrow night, under lights at Heol y Ciw RUFC ground. At least we'll have something to talk about after the game.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

More smiles 'Down on the Farm'

Does anyone remember the time in late 2006, when all the politicians in Wales started talking in a strange language, using a mixture of words like Tir Mynnydd, Tir Gofal, Tir Cynnal, Tir Cymru, Modulation, Environmental enhancement, Rural Develop Plan etc. It was great for me because I understood the code. Discussing this outside of the relevant Assembly Committee (which I chaired) was a bit like speaking Welsh in a Barbados bar. The hoohah, almost brought the Assembly Government down. Well, things have just moved on.

The fuss was about the then Minister, Carwyn Jones wanting to move money away from an upland farmer support scheme (Tir Mynnydd) to agri-environment schemes (Tir Gofal and Tir Cynnal). The former included all upland farmers, while the latter included only those who had been accepted into the special schemes, it was a case of taking money from the many to give to the few. Opposition parties wouldn't have it, defeated the Government and forced the Minsiter to put the budget set aside for Tir Mynnydd back up to £29 million, from the £22 million that he wanted it to be. In addition, we were warned by the Minister and his officials that the European Commission would not accept the overall Rural Development Plan which included all these changes. We were assured that we were misguided and irresponsible, and that Wales' RDP would be rejected. Well, its just been accepted - so stuff that in your pipe and smoke it Carwyn.

One other noteworthy point here. The Commission has decreed that £3.5 million of the £29 million has to go to a specific element of Tir Mynnydd, or what has been referred to as an 'environmental enhancement'. One of the questions that opposition parties had pressed the Minister on in 2006 was why he had scrapped these the year before the row over the budget. Well opposition parties were right again. The one thing that grieves me about this is that its the EU which has insisted on this change - and what really grates is that I agree with it! Anyway, the plan has been approved. I should declare my second pecuniary interest of the evening - because this too is rather good news for the personal budget of yours truly!

More smiling 'Down on the Farm'

The President of the National Farmer's Union in Wales, Dai Davies was at it again today - being pleased by a Government announcement. I'm told that Gareth Vaughan, President over at the Farmer's Union of Wales was a touch less pleased, but was talking about a step in the right direction. What's happened today is that the Assembly Government has announced that £8.7 million in to be distributed to hill farmers as compensation for last summer's outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease. Lets look at what happened and you can judge for yourself whether this lightening of our farmer's disposition is justified.

Over recent years, the UK Government did not properly fund its research facility at Pirbright where active FMD virus was held - so the drainage infrastructure failed and the virus escaped. Outbreak on. In other words, the UK Government caused the outbreak - the blame for which our 'moral compass' Prime Minister tried to pin on an American company which shared the Pirbright site. This led to animal movement restrictions which led to a collapse in the market price, which lost the sheep industry, particularly upland farmers (who have to sell their lambs in the autumn) many, many millions.

Then, because our 'moral compass' Prime Minister wanted to call a General Election, he promised that the Treasury would pay compensation to cover at least part of the loss. But he changed his mind about the Election, (some say he dithered) and withdrew the offer of compensation - or, to be more accurate, said that Defra would have to find the money from within its existing budget. (This made a big difference to Wales, because Treasury money would have been for all UK farmers, while Defra money is just for English farmers. Its taken a while but today we learned what response the Assembly Government was making to this unfortunate situation - even more unfortunate because the Scottish Parliament, cushioned by a more generous financial settlemet, offered its farmers about £25 million (Not certain of this figure).

Its legitimate to argue about the size of the package, (which my pal Brynle has done today) but I agree with the farming unions that it is well directed - to the upland farmers. The losses to upland farmers, as calculated by the Assembly Government ( or so I'm told anyway) are about £20 million and the figure is doubled if its assessed by the industry itself. The total package announced today is worth £8.8 million, all but £100k going into the upland support scheme. I should declare an interest, because this means a bit of extra cash for yours truly!

Say it again, and again, and again, and again.

When I heard all that stuff about about new citizenship tests which immigrants to the UK will have to meet on BBC news today, I thought it was sensible enough, but that I'd heard it all before. Thank goodness for the blogosphere - and Dizzy in particular.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Oxygen of Publicity.

I'm just watching George Galloway on Newsnight. Its only to be expected that he would give his unqualified support to a brutal dictator. He's just compared George Bush with Adolf Hitler. Why does the BBC give this man airtime? Its almost as bad as the revolting coverage that has been given to Mohamed al Fayed over the last day or so.

Living the Dream

Been a funny old day, working in the dark. Interviewed for S4/C about Julie Christie, someone that I don't know personally but who lives nearby, and also interviewed on Post Cynta and Good Evening Wales about an issue that I'd not had a chance to study in any sort of depth - today's publication by Assembly Environment Minister, Jane Davidson of an 'energy route map' for Wales up until 2020. Why do they use a meaningless term like 'route map'? Since I was being interviewed as President of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales, I decided not to be 'oppositional'. Mind you, listeners were also told that I am a Conservative Parliamentary Candidate. BBC must be some protocol about this I suppose.

Anyway, I said that I 'cautiously welcomed' the document - on the basis of what I've heard and read so far. Had to reserve my position though, until I read and discuss it further. Assembly Government publications are so self congratulatory that they should carry a truth warning, and are often not what they seem. But firstly, it seems to broaden the target sources of renewable energy from a almost total dependence on onshore wind, by reference to a target of deriving 50% of Wales' renewable energy from the sea. At least the direction seems right. There's also something about being self-sufficient by 2020 which I neither fully understand or believe. But its nice to see focus on wave, tide, hydro, micro-generation, solar and biomass - even if its probably just PR to counteract the vociferous opposition that is growing to covering great swathes of Wales in wind farms. Cynical or what! I also welcomed the line which promised 'a measured approach' to energy from wind. Perhaps that's part of a PR strategy as well. Truth is that's its too early to make any meaningful comment without further study - but did my best.

Most awkward moment was when Felicity Evans asked me (and its always Felicity who puts me on the spot) if I accepted that renewable energy from wind turbines should be part of the mix of renewables. Many members of CPRW and the Conservative Party would have preferred me to say No - but I answered with a qualified Yes. Two reasons. Firstly and factually, existing wind and approved wind farms will operate until well beyond 2020. But more controversially, I believe an absolutist stance nearly always loses the argument. I genuinely don't think wind farms are efficient enough to justify the damage they inflict on the landscape, particularly when cumulative impact is considered - but where a local community and a Local Planning Authority are supportive, standing in the way makes one look irrelevant and obstructive for its own sake. I will be discussing this position with my Director and Chairman over the next few days. Could be a 'change of emphasis' as we politicians sometimes say.

Monday, February 18, 2008

New power for the Assembly.

All 60 Assembly Members, of all parties, (at least I think so) want to pass into law new measures to ensure people suffering mental illness have the right to be assessed earlier than at present, and have improved access to independent advocacy during treatment. They do not believe that the current UK law is good enough. At present the power to pass such a measure lies with the UK Parliament. Today, Conservative Assembly Member, Jonathon Morgan submitted a proposal to transfer this power to the National Assembly. This is the first proposal for a Legislative Competence Order put forward by an individual backbench AM.

This is a big deal, with major financial implications. To deliver the services covered by this LCO would cost a significant amount of money - from a fixed budget. Its also a big deal because of the principle involved in transferring an important power from Westminster to Cardiff Bay. While I'm strongly in favour of the proposed changes in mental health services, I'm expressing no opinion in this post on the principle of transferring this law making power to the Assembly. Whenever I've pointed out that this is what will be happening under the current Government of Wales Act, and on a regular basis, I find very negative comments about the statement of fact on my blog. Perhaps when this transfer of law making powers to the Assembly has happened on dozens of occasions, there may be a call for the public to be invited to express their opinion on it!

Today, when interviewed, Jonathon said that ideally, the Assembly should have primary powers to pass new laws in this devolved area, without the necessity to ask for it to be transferred first. Once the power is transferred of course, the Assembly will then be free to pass other laws in this field. He then added, that since the Assembly does not have such powers at present, the Assembly must use these current convoluted arrangements instead. I repeat that all AMs from all parties agree with him. But I wonder what my readers think of this!

Stalked by Aliens

I live in a beautiful area, where the landscape brings joy and wonder to many of those who share my good fortune, and the many thousands who come to share it with us in their leisure time. We should take great care of this truly wonderful, inspiring countryside that makes up the old county of Montgomeryshire. Is it right, or even sane that we should allow hundreds of massive wind turbines to intrude into this special place? Our Assembly Government thinks it is.

Today, I met with the Head of Planning for Powys County Council to learn the extent of wind farm development in Northern Powys, where two Strategic Search Areas are located, one around the village of Carno, and one just over the Montgomeryshire border in Radnorshire. This is where you have to suspend belief. Into this joyous landscape, planning applications for 3 new wind farms have been submitted over the last few weeks, and another 12 (Yes 12) are expected over the next few weeks. This is Government inspired vandalism of a very high order.

OK, so I could live with one or two wind farms - but 15, on top of what's here already. Personally, I do not blame landowners for maximising income from their property - they have a responsibility to their families. And neither do I blame energy companies, who have a responsibility to their shareholders. Responsibility falls entirely on the Governments who have ignored the development of other renewable energy sources, and failed to address the approaching energy gap because it required the taking of difficult decisions. Governments have failed us - and the only pathetic, doomed-to-fail response today's Government can come up with is one which desecrates this beautiful corner the planet Earth. Its tragic.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Tally ho forever.

An article in today's Telegraph will make every man (and for man also read woman) of a libertarian bent rejoice. The Hunting with Dogs Act is an embarrassing failure - embarrassing to the prejudiced, ignorant Government which forced it onto the Statute Book that is. It seems that it has actually increased the number of foxes killed, - while decimating the number of hunt protesters, and hugely increasing the popularity of hunting. The country sport has never been so popular.

Despite this The League against Cruel Sports, which had a hand in drafting this extremely badly drafted law, seem to be happy with the way things have turned out. Clearly, their aim must have been little to do with protecting foxes, but a lot to do with getting an Act of Parliament passed. Jim Barrington, a former Director of the League who has changed his opinion and now favours hunting under licence, explained that since the League feels responsible for the Act, it must claim that its working well even if its not. The worst of it all of course is that the sum total of cruelty to foxes has increased because of the increased and far more cruel use of alternative ways of keeping the fox population down. In a spirit of generocity I forgive them, for they know not what they have done.

The Race is on.

I was a guest on Dau o'r Bae last Friday. Inevitably this weekend's Labour Party Conference came up, and Vaughan asked me what I thought was going to be the main theme. I said there would only one issue being discussed - everywhere except on the stage of course. As usual with party conferences, the real stories are in the bars, and in huddled groups around the fringes. A lot of what happens on the stage is presentation. No, the only issue under discussion has been who is lining up to succeed Rhodri Morgan next year. I'm pleased that Betsan has confirmed that my prediction came to pass

What do Plaid make of it.

Perhaps Ieuan Wyn Jones, Leader of Plaid Cymru in the National Assembly accepts that First Minister, Rhodri Morgan and Secretary of State for Wales, Paul Murphy have to be 'nasty' about his party at Labour's Welsh Conference this weekend. But what about the voters who supported Plaid last May? Today Rhodri promised a "no holds barred' scrap with Plaid Cymru in May's local elections. And Harriet Harman won two ovations when she launched into Labour's coalition partner. And then there's Paul Murphey. His comments are worth repeating.

"I've been called a devo-sceptic. No, I'm a devo-realist. The All-Wales Convention will be testing the waters about a referendum on Assembly powers. It is understandable that people debate these issues. However, as a party committed to social justice, we should always keep the services that matter most to people at the forefront of our thinking - schools and hospitals, tackling crime and bringing jobs to Wales. It is these things which people care about most, and so its delivering these services which should be a priority"

Nothing earth shaking in this for most of us. But its as clear as day that a referendum on law making powers doesn't even register on Paul Murphy's list of priorities - and this was the issue that led Ieuan Wyn Jones to prop up Rhodri Morgan in office last May, rather than do an Alex Salmond in Wales. You can bet that IWJ and his 'spinners'are desperately reassuring his party activists on the phone tonight with something like

"Rhodri and Paul don't really mean it. Its just that they have got to throw a bit of red meat to all those 'nasty' Labour activists - and their 'nasty' Deputy Leader from Westminster who we shouldn't take much notice of because she went straight back over the border. Anyway, you can tell that she know nothing about Wales because she described the nice Welsh Tories as 'nasty'. How ridiculous can you get. Oh, and we shouldn't worry too much about that Convention thing we promised last May, which Paul is merrily kicking into the long grass. It was only really a cover to stop us doing a deal with the Tories - and to save me from having to take the responsibility of being First Minister. It'll all turn out fine. Trust me."

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Hail the 'Castrati'.

Been to the AGM of the Montgomeryshire Conservative Association today. First time I've had an opportunity to talk to our new President, Lord Gowrie. And a great pleasure it was too. He's an Irishman, with a Scottish title, married to a German, who emigrated to Wales. He's also amusing, cultured, and seemed to have that streak of 'independent' thinking that I so enjoy, and aspire to myself. I particularly enjoyed his description of hereditary peers as the 'Castrati' - a word that conveys a sense of history and reduced potency that sums up the position perfectly. I was lucky with our last President of 3 years, Robert Harvey, a noted author (of history books) and former MP for Clwyd South. He was casually 'independent' as well. There must be something about the air in Montgomeryshire that attracts people who will not pander to prejudice, and will not be pushed around. Must be why I would never live anywhere else.

Who do you think you are kidding Mr Morgan

The Montgomeryshire County Times, my local weekly newspaper came up with its hardest hitting front page within my memory this week. It gave over the whole front page to the headline "Who do you think you are kidding Rhodri Morgan". It seems that the First Minister visited the County Times office two weeks ago and told the newspaper that the area was not going to be affected by the 'Great wind farm invasion'. Now, I cannot see how this can be anything other than a blatant untruth. There is one Strategic Search Area in the middle of Montgomeryshire and another on the old county's Southern border. Even if we limit it to wind farms being built on Government owned Forestry Commission land, the County Times suggests that Rhodri's statement is not true. It claims that there are plans to erect 30 giant turbines in the Dyfnant Forest, near Llanerfyl. I've been aware of this proposal for over a year. The reality is that much of Montgomeryshire's landscape is going to be dramatically transformed by the construction of several new wind farms over the next few months. I'm meeting the Powys County Council's Head of Planning tomorrow to establish exactly where we are on this contentious issue.

But the newspaper front page is still strong stuff. The headline (together with a background map) is an unsubtle take on the Dad's Army song 'Who do you think you are kidding Mr Hitler'. I do think it is entirely reasonable to accuse our First Minister of not telling us the truth - perhaps because he was not aware of the real position. But comparing him with Mr Hitler!! In passing, its odd that this comparison should seem so much more brutal than comparing a politician with Joseph Stalin, which is common enough. And Stalin murdered millions more people than did the Fuehrer. Oh Dear. These damn wind turbines do cause some trouble.

We shouldn't forget Peter.

I've never been one to forget those who have made a key contribution to public life in Wales. One such is former Secretary of State, Peter Hain who resigned last month to 'clear his name'. Readers of this blog may recall that I thought he may want to kick start his political career by considering a switch to the National Assembly for Wales - so I like to keep an eye on how his little problem is working its way through the system. Dizzy is keeping his eye on things for us.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Death of the World.

I thought it was doomed, as soon as Rhodri Glyn Thomas announced earlier this week, the level of financial support that he is prepared to put into it. Yesterday came the official announcement. Dyddiol, the company which has worked for years to publish a Welsh Language Daily Newspaper announced that the dream is dead. Aled Price, the editor has resigned. The newspaper, Y Byd (The World) will not be appearing on March 1st as planned. The planned 24 jobs that Machynlleth was anticipating, are no longer being anticipated. Its all over. Kaput.

The company did not mince its words. It dumps the blame squarely at the Minister's doorstep. Last May the Coalition Government promised as part of the agreement which convinced Plaid Cymru to throw in its lot with Labour that sufficient funding would be provided to launch the newspaper. This promise has been broken. The Minister has sent out a rescue raft, loaded with millions of pounds of taxpayer's money to save the Millennium Centre in Cardiff and the National Botanic Garden in Carmarthenshire, but has dispatched only a coracle with a lighter load to underwrite Y Byd which was to have been produced at Machynlleth in Mid Wales.

When I 'appeared' on Post Prynhawn today to discuss this with Gareth Glyn, I held back from criticising the Minister myself for his decision. I have not seen the reports that he's seen. Perhaps he's not convinced about Y Byd's viability. But what I'm sure of is that the public (and Plaid Cymru's members) should not have been told that the Coalition Government was going to underwrite Y Byd. Promises should not be made, if they are not going to be honoured. The Assembly Government deserve all the stick they are getting.

Montgomeryshire - Arts Mecca.

Strolled casually into a reception at the Oriel Davies Gallery in Newtown tonight, not really knowing what the exhibition was. "Never", I thought. "It cannot be". "This is some sort of joke". But it wasn't a joke. Hanging on the wall, facing the door through which I had just walked was an oil on canvas by Claude Monet entitled San Giorgio Maggiore by Twilight. Now I don't do many galleries and exhibitions and I'm not an officiado, but I recognised this painting. Last time I saw it was on TV over Xmas when I watched the Thomas Crown Affair - for the first time. The very same painting that Thomas Crown stole, hanging on a wall in Newtown in rural Mid Wales. And next to it was another Monet, and then an oil by Paul Cezanne and then a ........ Its incredible - except that I saw it all with my own eyes, just three hours ago. Hundreds of millions of pounds just hanging there.

The paintings are part of the collection of works of art left by Gwendoline and Margaret Davies, normally housed in the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff. They are out on tour. The exhibition was opened tonight by Lord Davies of Llandinam, a direct descendant of the Davies sisters, and is open until well into April. If you do happen to be in Newtown call in - and if you have to go there specially for that matter. And if you see Piers Brosnan, or someone who looks like him walking around town with a briefcase with TC on it, please notify Newtown Police Station immediately.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Guto Gone from the Beeb.

I learn from Iain Dale's blog that the great Guto Harri is leaving the BBC for a job in public relations. Iain also posts that Guto was in line for the job taken by Andy Coulson. Well I never. I knew he was a good journalist, and he was great for the image of Wales - but I didn't know he was a Conservative sympathiser, which I suppose he must have been to have been considered for the Coulson job. Whatever, his departure from the world of political reporting will be a loss to the BBC and a loss to Wales. Best wishes Guto. Perhaps we'll see you around the fringes, flashing your Fleishman Hillard business card.

Valentine's Romance

Roses are red my love.
Daffodils are flutey.
My love for you grows
in line with fuel duty.

With thanks to Matt.

Ferrets in the sack

Amusing little spat between Plaid Cymru and Labour being reported in today's media. The BBC and the Western Mail are both covering the story. It particularly pleases me because I've been love-bombing Plaid politicians for years (apart from the odd moment when the inevitable frustration of constant rejection manifests itself in a niggardly form). The only way I cope with the constant spurning of my affection is by thinking of all the little spats there would be if the Rainbow Coalition had been running the National Assembly. Perhaps it'll develop into a full-on fight. And its Valentine's Day as well.

I do agree with what Plaid Cymru are trying to do here, even if does look like something of a stunt. If anyone wants to contribute to the Labour Party, then best of luck to them. But no-one should be contributing unless they've taken a conscious decision to do so. Plaid are making it easier for trade unionists to opt out of paying the political levy to Labour. Predictably union bosses are not happy with this, but if there isn't a need for it, the Plaid initiative will not make any difference.

But its only a little spat. The sort of thing that happens every day in most marriages. The Lib Dems and the Conservatives can have a harmless bit of entertainment though - which is all I'm doing by writing this post..

Congratulations Neil

Neil Roberts of the Wagon and Horses of Newtown in Montgomeryshire is an outstandingly good chef. Neil justifies this accolade because he has just declared the best at the Welsh International Culinary Championships. Only downside for me is that the Wagon and Horses will be that much likely to be full when I try to book. This blog has extolled the pleasures associated with eating out at the Wagon and Horses before, and now extends its congratulations to Neil Roberts, Best Chef in Wales.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Alistair Darling

A day or so after our hapless Chancellor of the Exchequer announced his plan to change the taxation status on non-domiciled taxpayers last year, I happened to have lunch with a businessman who fully understood the impact. He explained to me that the proposals were a disaster for the UK economy and that Alistair Darling would have to climb down. It wasn't so much the annual charge (which was not too dissimilar from the Conservative proposal which the Chancellor was trying to copy - £30K per annum rather than £25K) It was the retrospective and inquisitive nature of the proposals. The annual levy would have an effect on some, who would see it as a base which future Chancellors would increase as an easy source of money - so they might as well relocate to another country now. But this would be small beer. The real killer was the proposal to extend the net to include off-shore trusts. My lunch companion was adamant that the Chancelor would have to climb down. He climbed down yesterday.

Yesterday's announcement will reduce the damaging impact that the Chancellor's original proposals would have had on the UK economy - so they are welcome. And there's room for a debate about taxation of non-doms. But two questions arise about the competence of Alistair Darling. Firstly, just how incompetent is he. How can a Chancellor, with his team of officials, propose a new tax which an informed businessman knows immediately and with certainty that he would have to abandon. And we've seen exactly the same sort of climb down over Capital Gains Tax. It may be that Gordon Brown is telling him exactly what to do, but it does make Alistair Darling look hopelessly incompetent. And secondly. how often can a Chancellor stand before us just shrugging his shoulders helplessly, like a cork being tossed about on an angry ocean, before he disappears under the waves of a re-shuffle.

UK Athletics running scared

UK athletics has got itself into a fine mess. It has created a situation in which they've had to select Dwain Chambers, a self-confessed drug cheat to run for the British team while publicly condemning their own decision. What a bizarre cock-up this is. Dwaine Chambers admitted to taking THG, the drug at the centre of the Balco drugs scandal, and was banned for just 2 years in 2004. Because hed supposedly 'retired' from official training to play American Football, he was not tested at all in 2007. And now he's returned, won the official selection race, and has been chosen to represent Britain - because he'd have sued UK Athletics if they hadn't picked him. UK Athletics have made themselves the laughing stock of the athletics world.

Firstly, Dwain Chambers should have been banned for far longer than 2 years, which is no more than what 'clean' athletes might suffer as the result of a serious injury. And it is outrageous that he wasn't tested at all in 2007. We know that the main benefit derived from using drugs is that it enables greater intensity in training, rather than in the race season itself. He could have been injecting and snorting up until Xmas, like a pig on growth promoters, for all we know. And now he's picked to run for the UK.

I used to love watching athletics on TV. I've been to events to spectate. Now I cannot be bothered to turn the TV on. And I won't be bothered until the rules are changed to bar convicted drug cheats from the sport. And we all know what will happen now that Mr Chambers has become mired in scandal. He'll be paid a fortune to appear in a reality TV programme, or appear on QuestionTime if he can string two words together. Grrrrrrr is about all I can think of to say.

What place for Sharia Law.

So that's cleared things up then. No more 'clumsy' or 'misleading' talk. Let everyone know exactly what he meant in language that every man on the street can easily comprehend. Speaking to the opening session of the Church of England Synod earlier this week, Dr Rowan Williams said

"While there is no dispute about our common allegiance to the law of the land, that law still recognises that religious communities form the consciences of believers and has not pressed for universal compliance with aspects of civil law where conscientious matters are in question. However there are signs that this cannot be taken quite so easily for granted as the assumptions of our society become more secular."

Trouble is, this mitigating clarity (which must have been just about the most carefully prepared speech of Dr William's life) leave some questions hanging in the air. And reading Rachel Sylvester's article in the Telegraph deepens the furrows on my brow. It seems that the Archbishop of Canterbury, head of the Established Church is accepting that Britain is becoming a secular state, (as well as that British law will inevitably accommodate legal systems based derived from faiths other than Christianity). No point in denying the trend towards 'secularism', the most obvious signs of which are the meagre numbers attending Anglican churches. But it still seems a surprisingly defeatist conclusion by Dr Williams. Perhaps he doesn't realise that he's an opinion leader in our country.

Is Britain any longer a Christian country? Is there any longer any case for the existence of the Lords Spiritual? Should the Church of England become disestablished? These are just three of many important questions that flow from this can of worms that Dr Williams has opened. Until last week I'd have expected the Archbishop of Canterbury to have answered Yes, Yes and No. After reading his 'clarification', I'm not at all sure which way he seeks to lead the Anglican Church - or what how some elements of the Church will react. And then there is the position and opinions of the Supreme Governor of the English Church in all this. This story has a long way to run yet.

Life without Phill.

B*****ks. I don't think that I can cope without Phill. I've just wasted the entire night. Drove almost 2 hours to Aberaeron to speak to the Ceredigion branch of the Farmer's Union of Wales. Ran through my speech as driving there and felt in positive creative mood. Arrived to find an empty building, with lights out. Popped into the Harbourmaster for a glass of wine. Don't like to drive when I'm distressed. Almost 4 hours wasted. I've no idea what went wrong. Bet it turns out to be my fault. All I do know is that this never have happened when Phill ran my life.

In passing, I was deeply impressed with the changes at the Harbourmaster. It really does look the business. Didn't try the food tonight, but it looked as good as ever - which is very good indeed. The new restaurant is twice the size - and there will be 4 new bedrooms ready at Easter. Te place was full, on a Tuesday night in February. Says it all.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Plaid Pigeons Flying Home

I was in a meeting today, talking about on shore wind farms, when one of our number informed us that Plaid Cymru were, generally speaking not in favour of them. My hackles rose. I felt forced to intervene and say that Plaid Cymru were an integral part of the Welsh Government and are therefore totally committed to the desecration of great swathes of the Welsh countryside by covering them with wind farms. None of this nonsense of being against them where it is 'politically convenient', but sort of in favour everywhere else. This doesn't wash. Plaid Cymru are absolutely, totally 100% in favour of hundreds and hundreds of huge wind turbines being erected all over rural Wales.

My view is that Plaid Cymru have been having their cake and eating it for too long. Its really irritating to be involved in a four party discussion to find the Labour Spokesman going first on behalf of the Government, and then the utterly ridiculous position of the Plaid Cymru spokesman going next to comment on it. Ridiculous and anti-democratic. Plaid are cuddled up in a consumated relationship with Labour. They are as one,

And this is going to get more difficult for Plaid. Over the weekend, Cymdeithas yr Iaith were incandesent about Culture Minister, Rhodri Glyn Thomas' decision to limit the Government money going to the launch of the Welsh Language daily paper, Y Byd to a level which will render the newspaper stillborn. And all of this is going to gather pace as it becomes clear that there will be no referendum on law making powers before or at the 2011 Asembly election. Storm clouds are gathering. I wonder if a rainbow might appear out of the rain-laden sky?

What a way to go.

Today's Telegraph reported the death of Mrs Sheila Castle. Now I don't suppose she wanted to die, while her husband and three sons are reported to be still numb with shock. But I cannot but feel that if she is looking down on us all from above she will have the suggestion of a satisfied smile on her face. And if she could speak to us, I can imagine her saying "What a way to go".

For Mrs Castle was an 84 year old "stalwart of the countryside", who had campaigned tirelessly against the hunting ban and died yesterday after falling for her horse while out with Norfolk's Dustan Harriers. Too much to hope for that she was in hot pursuit of a fox at the time. A huge hunt is planned for next week to remember her the way she would have wanted. Let it be a great celebration of the life of a special champion of the countryside.

Reminds me of the Channel 4 Awards programme of two weeks ago when the Countryside Alliance won the 'campaigning organisation of the year' - or some similar award. Baroness Anne Mallilieu and Kate Hoey on the platform to receive it - and Simon Hart applauding from the audience. The Baroness's speech was as magnificent as it was uncompromising. Not one inch backwards will she take. The ban on hunting with dogs was a spiteful act of ignorance and total disregard for the traditions of the countryside, which has probably increased the sum total of animal suffering. Just as those of us who have always lived with the countryside told them it would. The spirit of Mrs Sheila Castle will live on. They will not douse the flames of anger and resentment. The Hunting with Dogs Act must be struck from the statute book.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Feeling Unwell

Don't visit Valley's Mam's blog for a day or two - not if you've ever eaten at Italiano Pitzerria in City Road Cardiff. She reports that the two former owners have just been fined because the icing on top of some chocolate cake they were selling was human faecal matter. I once knew someone who used to pee in cups of tea before handing them to his friends, thinking it was a great joke. Perhaps we should have thanked him and given him a slice of chocolate cake in return. I've been suspicious of tea that I haven't seen being poured ever since - and I don't think I'll ever eat a cake with chocolate icing on it ever again.

And in the same post Valley's Mam tells us about the difficulty that the Irish Garda are experiencing recovering a stolen vehicle. It belongs to the Special Branch and they cannot issue a description because they don't want anyone to know what the vehicle looks like.

And there's more - including a story about a lady shoplifter who was found to have a whole salami in her knickers - claiming as her excuse that she was missing her Italian boyfriend!

Still On Track

Wales are still on track for the Six Nations Championship. I'm a little more optimistic after today's 30-15 defeat of Scotland at the Millennium Stadium - but still not wildly confident. Wales were much the better side, and most of our complaints were that they did not take their chances. OK, so the Shane Williams try should not have been allowed, but we dominated for most of the game. Martyn Williams plays in the same position as I did so I always watch him rather more than the others. He was terrific - yet again. I thought that the Scots were poor throughout, and did not try to play any rugby. It was largely as a result of the Scots negative approach that it wasn't a good game. Gatland has got B**** though, big ones - taking Hook off half way through the second half. I suppose he wanted to play club mates, Dwayne Peel and Stephen Jones together. He's very keen on these club 'units'. But what can you say when Wales totally dominated the play for every minute after the Jones/Peel partnership came on. And everyone's going to like us as well, with the extremely personable, articulate Ryan Jones as captain. He's going to be a media star when his playing career is over.

In Paris the French were stunning for the first half. I hope that they don't play like that against us because they would stuff us. And the Irish were terrific in the second half. I watched the game on TV in Cork, so there was much celtic sympathy flowing. Now this was a terrific game of rugby, between two sides who wanted to play. Wales will have to continue their improvement over the next few weeks because I dont think we would have been good enough to have beaten either of them today. But I am hopeful, if not confident.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Dr. Rowan Williams.

How on earth is one to react to the latest musings of the Archbishop of Canterbury. I was a bit lucky that I was heading out of the country today when BBC Wales rang me. I was boarding the plane when they invited me on to talk about Dr. Rowan Williams' lecture to the Royal Courts of Justice. It would have been walking on very thin ice indeed. It would have been easy if I didn't have such great respect for the man - as a theologian and an academic. But he is not much of a politician. I cannot think of anything more designed to wind up the British people than to suggest that sharia law should apply in some circumstances in our country.

Trouble with Dr. Rowan Williams is that he's a high intellectual. And they are all tend to be the same. Its a bit like when Rhodri Morgan (another intellectual) started going on about the benefits to Welsh tourism that would flow from global warming. He was probably making an interesting point - but it was a stupid commment to make because of the offence it caused. As I understand it, there are already some 'voluntary' concessions to sharia law accepted in the UK - just as there are some concessions to Jewish law. But he's the head of the Church of England. He simply cannot say what he said without causing a storm - especially in the current climate of popular concern about aggressive Islamic fundamentalism. He should have known that he was lighting a very big firework. He knows now.

There are restrictions on what a lot of us can say. This blog has taken the view that the Chief Constable of North Wales shouldn't campaign for the legalisation of all drugs - while he remains in office. There are plenty of things I cannot post on this blog - while I remain a parliamentary candidate. And the Archbishop of Canterbury would have been wise to have not delivered that lecture. Ironically, he has produced a reaction opposite to that which he would have intended.

Is all not well in Lord Eliis Thomas fiefdom

In Cork for the weekend. (Did you know that a prosthetic knee makes the security machine at the airport bleep). No sooner had I landed at Cork's splendid new airport than I had another call from Edna Mopbucket. I'll have to compensate her for the cost of an International call. I hope Miss Wagstaffe is not offering her money. She told me that staff in the Assembly Parliamentary Service are not happy. No, not happy at all. "Bloody tamping" is how Edna put it. She swears that some of the APS staff are so 'bloody tamping' that at least some are talking about strike action. I told her that she must be exaggerating. They are just not the sort to strike. For those who don't know, APS staff serve the Assembly as a whole , rather than the Assembly Government.

Its about money of course. What else. According to Edna, who picked the story up in the corridor (he/she emphasised this because I'm always accusing his/her of listening at keyholes). He/she gets very cross when I call him/her a common eavesdropper. It seems that several APS staff are not being paid for the hours they have worked - and are not being allowed time off in lieu either. I told her that the best way to get AMs to see sense would be to refuse to process their salaries and allowance claims. Funny how you see things differently when you are no longer an AM yourself!!

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Damp Squib

I was going to have an early night - but stayed up to watch Dragon's Eye because the Beeb had been advertising an item about who follows Rhodri Morgan as Leader of the Wales Labour Party, and First Minister of the National Assembly. This is a matter of great interest to anyone involved in Welsh politics. So I tuned in for all the latest twists and turns in what is bound to be an bloody and vicious contest. Preamble for the revelations to come was an interview with Rhodri confirming that he is standing down next year.

Then it was on to the excitement and juicy news, which makes Dragon's Eye such compulsive viewing. Anticipation reaching fever pitch when Adrian told us he was going to interview all the runners and riders. First up, Leighton Andrews - who ran for cover without a word and a face like thunder. Next up, Carwyn Jones who smiled engagingly and said he had nothing to say. Then Edwina Hart had even less to say than Carwyn. Jane Davidson said for the umpteenth time that she's not interested. And Andrew Davies and Huw Lewis were not available to say anything. No reference at all to today's speculation about Eluned Morgan, MEP, which might have introduced a spark of interest. I'm going to bed asking myself what the devil the item was all about. I'll ring Edna Mopbucket tomorrow to find out whats happening. Or perhaps Miss wagstaffe's new informant can spill the beans.

The Story Teller

Spent much of today at Bronglais Hospital in Aberystwyth. The subject under discussion was 'Living with a Stoma'. Regular visitors will know that I acquired one myself 5 years ago, when my internal drainage system had to be re-designed to accommodate the removal of a cancerous tumour as well as what my surgeon delicately referred to as my 'bottom'. I'm very open about this, because I want people to be aware of the symptoms, and to realise that its possible to live a full and active life after such radical surgery - if its caught in time of course. I offer myself as a living example. Anyway, there was a story teller, named Jim Wingate there as well. I liked one of his stories - about three generations living in the same house.

Granny's house had been passed over to her daughter and son-in-law, but she was still living with the two of them and their young daughter. (Perhaps they were trying to avoid Inheritance Tax). Granny grew old and started dribbling and making ugly noises as she was eating her food. The parents forgot that Granny had given them her house and forced her to eat alone in a distant corner out of her own bowl, and out of their sight and hearing. Granny became withdrawn and very unhappy. One day the parents noticed their little girl trying to cut up a block of wood with her dinner knife. When they asked her what she was doing, the little girl said she was carving two wooden bowls for them when they were as old as Granny.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Bloggers Beware

Well, that was a close thing. I'd almost lost Edna as my informant. She was going to start her own blog. It was going to be called Sennedd Cleaner's Revenge. And then she happened on some notes that she reckoned Jeff Cuthbert had left behind after the Assembly's Committee on Standards had finished a particularly tense meeting. She told me that they are declaring war on bloggers. No way could she take the risk. If he found out she was blogging she'd be out on her ear. When I told her not to be silly, she went ballistic - and not for the first time lately. I suppose she is reaching 'the change' age. "Cuthbert" she screamed down the phone. "He's as ruthless as Carl Sergeant - without the sense of humour. He terrifies me. I know he keeps pretending to reassure everyone that he doesn't want to stop the bloggers. But don't you believe it. He's a brute and he won't be happy until he's got Peter Black hanging from a tree by thin wire attached to his testicles."

I asked her what evidence she'd got for this outburst and she emailed me a copy of the missive that Cuthbert (as she now disrespectfully calls the AM for Caerphilly) had sent out to AMs. And she made me promise to reproduce it. And she told me not to be fooled by any bland meaningless reassurances. He wants a ban on AMs blogging. Ever since Peter Black was found guilty of something or other be the Standards Committee and fined nothing and given no lashes at all, the Penn Police have wanted a scapegoat. And they think that Jeff Cuthbert is just the man to deliver. Anyway this is what the instruction from Mr Cuthbert to all AMs said.

We are writing to all AMs today to share our concerns regarding the 'inappropriate' use of Blog sites by Members - and the fact that this use could (and has) led to a potential breach of the Code of Conduct for Assembly Members.

From the outset, we would like to stress that we do not intend to suggest that the use of blogs should be prohibited in any way.......but a clear message must be sent about using such sites appropriately.

One of the main objectives of the Commissioner for Standards is to help build a robust Standards regime within the Assembly. In recent years much has been done to 'educate' Members on standards issues. The Standards Committee shares this view that prevention is better than cure.

In the last 12 months three complaints have been referred to the Committee on Standards of Conduct alleging that inappropriate material had been posted by Assembly Members on Blog sites.......

Members should always bear in mind what is posted to their Blog sites, either by them or a third party, could potentially breach the Code of Conduct for Assembly Members. Paragraph 4(a) of the Code provides that,

Assembly Members should at all times conduct themselves in a manner which will tend to maintain and strengthen the public's trust and confidence in the integrity of the Assembly, and refrain from any action which would bring the Assembly, or its members generally into disrepute.

And remember little children, that they have ways of making you talk.


Like most boys on February 6th, 1958, I was left stunned by the shocking air disaster in Munich which visited death and injury on the Manchester United football team. Duncan Edwards was my hero. Difficult to understand why, because I never saw him play, and only saw odd clips of him on TV. He was a creature of my imagination, sculpted by the words and opinions of writers who were captivated by his power and skills. That's how we appreciated sport in 1958. I still remember picking up the family Daily Express every morning from the Post Office in Castle Caereinion, to read as I waited for the school bus, and then to read again about Duncan Edwards' progress in hospital, hoping in vain that he would live.

Today, we don't need to create our own images. The TV camera is all-seeing with its action replays, and exaggerations of human weakness that so diminishes respect for our star performers - and seems to diminish the respect many of them have for themselves. In 1958, the imagination was fired and shaped by the retelling of witness' stories, by radio commentary and by newspaper reports. It was the same with cricket. We depended on John Arlott to paint pictures in our minds. And wonderful, graphic pictures they were. To this day I remember England Captain, Brian Close, scoring an impossible 64 in the gathering gloom to save a test match against the best that West Indies could throw at him on a wicked pitch - refusing to acknowledge any discomfort as his body was turned black and blue as he defied a blitz of bouncers. Every ball was analysed in great depth. The image has stuck because of the awe in which the occasion was held and conveyed by the commentators.

But how good was Duncan Edwards, and how good would he have become, and how would he have coped with his fame. I've read respected journalists say that he was 'better than John Charles'. No praise can be higher. I did see film of John Charles, and will forever be indebted to the BBC for inviting me to a function where I enjoyed a long conversation with 'the Gentle Giant'. For me John Charles will always be the best - perhaps because Duncan Edwards died before he could do it all, aged just 21. The images I created for Duncan Edwards didn't allow for any blemish. He always took the ball cleanly, always stopped his man, always passed with unerring accuracy and always surged forward from his wing half position to score when his team needed him to. Like the death of John Kennedy, John Lennon and Princess Diana, the Munich air crash will never be forgotten.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Feeling at home.

Been a good night for me. Went down to Brecon to speak to the Brecon and Radnorshire branch of the Farmer's Union of Wales. Probably the first time that a CPRW President has spoken to an FUW branch. I'm speaking to the Ceredigion Branch next week. I could pretend that I'm in great demand - but the truth is that I was invited because I offered myself! Shameless - but with a purpose.

I'm keen to challenge the perception that the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales is only about people who have moved into Wales. I've heard this said often over the last few years. Its true that a lot of members have indeed moved in, and a lot of members do not actually live in Wales - but we want farmers and Welsh countryside lovers to become involved as well. Its important to engage with those whose skills and dedication had the biggest hand in fashioning that which we want to protect.

It was a great meeting, which would have gone on for hours if the Chair hadn't called a halt. A lot about wind turbines of course. But a lot about local services as well, and the important role of farming. Of course I feel at home in a roomfull of farmers, but I felt a sense that the audience started to look at CPRW in a different way. Anyway, I drove home thinking I'd done a decent job, which always puts me into a good mood, even when its without justification.

Are Welsh children being properly fed ?

I still remember the semolina pudding we used to have on Tuesdays when I was in school. Oh, how I've tried to forget. It may well have been very nutritious, but at the time, I thought the left overs could have been used to plaster the ceiling. Anyway, I've taken a ghoulish interest in what we feed our children ever since. Which is why I was very interested to learn today what Welsh Local Education Authorities are currently paying for school meals.

I'm reliably informed that in England, the cost of a school meal averages around 80p, with some councils, such as Norfolk paying up to 90p. The figure in Wales is around just 50p, with Cardiff paying 55p. Now a penny or two I can understand - but these sort of differentials are incredible. So I telephoned a Welsh food manufacturer I know, just to check whether this can possibly be true. I knew him to be a really good quality supplier. He told me that he currently supplies his products to 4500 schools in England, but no school in Wales can afford to buy from him. Typical of what is happening is that English schoolchildren are being fed sausages with a 65% pork content, while those being served up to their Welsh equivalents are only 40% pork.

I hope that any Assembly Member who reads this post will start asking a few questions to check on the accuracy of my figures, and whether the schoolchildren of Wales are being served up meals that are inferior to their English schoolchildren.

Will Plaid U-turn on referendum?

The main reason Plaid Cymru decided on going into a governing coalition with Labour in the National Assembly was the much-trumpeted assurance that there would be a referendum on law making powers 'on or before 2011'. Whether this will be delivered is increasingly open to question. It would be a massive blow to Plaid if this referendum fails to materialise. And it looks to me that this could easily be the case. The two coalition partners have sensibly decided to set up a 'convention' to establish whether a referendum can be won - but there seems to be absolutely no hurry in setting it up, and it looks as if the earliest it could report would be late 2009 or 2010. So it was no surprise to see Plaid's Parliamentary leader, Elfyn Llwyd begin to prepare the ground for this 'mother of all U-turns' last week when he started counselling against rushing into it. That Elfyn was giving sensible advice is immaterial. Its just that if its taken, Plaid Cymru will have sold their souls for a pup last May.

Lets look at where we are. Labour, in the form of Peter Hain, and now Paul Murphy, have roundly rubbished the idea of a referendum before the next General Election, which we are now expecting about a year before the Assembly election. The Liberal Democrats and (at least I anticipate) both Labour and the Conservatives would not want the referendum on the same day as an Assembly Election. Its beginning to look like 2012 at the earliest. So where does that leave us? Or more to the point, where does it leave Plaid Cymru - and the governing coalition? Please keep your answers decent.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Meeting Miss Wagstaffe's Challenge

The redoubtable Welsh blogger, Miss Wagstaffe has marked his/her first three months in the blogosphere by a review of his/her 20 most popular posts - and asked his/her blogroll to do the same. Since this blog has been going for over two years, the first three months are a bit out of date, and there were not many comments then anyway. So I'll post on how I think the site has gone.

In the beginning, I did not expect the blog to survived as long as it has. Incredibly this is the 847th post. It would be nice to stagger on to 1000 and receive a letter from the Queen - or whatever happens. I feel a bit like David Beckham. I don't have a lot of visitors, around 300 on weekdays and 150 at weekends -which is puny compared with the popular UK blogs. The record number of visitors was 731, attracted by a post I wrote about the Assembly coalition talks, basing it on three little bears.

The blog has changed a lot, as have the tone of the comments. In the beginning, it was based on National Assembly internal politics and gossip. Few comments, and all generally good natured. Over time the blog became more opinionated, and comments became less good natured. I'm doing fewer family based blogs because they prefer to be left out of it. And I've dropped irony and general p***taking, because I don't seem to get away with it without causing offence in the way I used to. So since its not fun anymore - it will be dropped.

To stay alive a blog has to react to comments, and change, or stop accepting comments altogether. So there's likely to be a bit less opinion, which generally attracts negativity, less family news, and less Assembly stuff as I lose touch - unless I become involved in something relevant of course. I'm likely to indulge my passion for sport a bit more, and the countryside a bit more, and gardening as the nights draw out, and more UK politics as I try to get to grips with Westminster issues. I hope there will continue to be comments, to which I will always respond, in order to encourage debate. I'm hopeful that I might make the 1000 before conking out and going birdwatching.

Farmers smiling in the rain.

This blog rarely ventures into the world of farming, despite this being my only source of income since last May when I lost my seat in the National Assembly. I use the word 'income' loosely because there wasn't any of it in 2007. If I'm free on a Monday morning, I usually spend an hour or so in the Welshpool Livestock Market, catching up on gossip and the trade. Today, it was 'chucking it down', but I could see smiling faces peering out from under the waxen hoodies. Fat lamb prices were up to a level that leaves a profit. And this on top of last week's store cattle sale where trade was smile-inducingly 'hot'. No good to me of course. Like most upland sheep farmers, all my fat lambs went before Xmas - but I did have the pleasure of seeing some of Montgomeryshire's farmers smiling in the rain.

My doppelganger

Tory Welsh Press supremo, Richard Hazlewood has just emailed me a BBC online page reporting on the failure of a Welsh MP 'look-a-like' who has failed to find any work at all since being appointed. Well, last week I was enjoying a cappuccino in Starbuck's in Cardiff Bay when a lady came up to commiserate with me on losing my job as the Welsh team coach after our exit from the Rugby World Cup. And the occupants of the next table clearly shared her sentiments. I began to feel quite sorry for myself. If I see her again next time I'm down in the Bay, I'll tell her that last Saturday's result was built on the 'foundations' that I laid two years ago! And I remember the much missed Arsembly putting photographs of Gareth Jenkins and me, side by side on his/her blog under the heading 'Failed in Wales'. Politics and Welsh rugby can be such a cruel world.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Where are Labour on 'Welfare' Reform.

Didn't get around to reading the Sunday's until tonight. The rugby reports saved it for me. Otherwise, it was depression all around for anyone who wants to be an MP. I suppose its even worse for anyone who is an MP. Reports of 'snouts' and 'troughs' on almost every page. It seems that politicians have never been held in such low esteem. Could hardly find another story to comment on. I'd hoped there would be a lot about the thoughts of David Freud, who has been taken on as an advisor by Peter Hain's successor at the Department of work and Pensions, James Purnell. I'd read an article by Freud in the Telegraph last week, and it was radical stuff about welfare reform. The only comment that I could find was by Iain Martin in the Sunday Telegraph.

Martin quotes from the Freud article. "Gordon Brown has now said that they are going to do it......welfare is a mess that no-one can manage.......the system we've got at the moment sends 2.64 million people into a form of economic house arrest........its got to be the private sector.......somebody will see a gap in the market and make a fortune." We know what Gordon Brown has thought about what David Freud has been saying in the past. He'd have been shown the door in seconds. Now he's been taken on as an advisor.

Now this is really important stuff. Its territory that excites some of those who comment on my blog including Sanddef and Christopher Wood. I suppose this furore about allowances and employment rules will ease as policies are adopted to deal with an issue that has dealt such a heavy blow to the body politic. And then we can return to one of the issues which will decide the next General Election.

UPDATE - Worth reading debate on this in the comments on David Jones, MP's blog

Barbados Revisited

Family birthday weekend. No 2 son, Patrick, No 3 son, Tim and I all have our birthdays close together, so we usually open presents together. Barbados memorabilia dominated. One of my presents was a CD by Freddie Macgreggor called Lover's Rock. Its a slow reggae style that will be perfect on a hot summer's evening with a rum punch. We met Freddie Macgreggor when he and his band sat on the next table to us when he was in Barbados to support David Thompson, who has just become the new Prime Minister. We were told that he is a big star in the reggae world. Our recent holiday in Barbados is not the sort of thing we do very often and it will be nice to bring back the memories of a special 10 days. I've been looking through the photographs to find one that said something about the non-tourism side of Barbados. These women were at work in the sugar cane fields. I asked permission before I took it. It should have been in sepia.

How good are we.

The weekend has been dominated by Wales' unlikely victory over England at Twickenham. I was expecting us to play well, but not to win. At half time I thought that we might ship 50 points. It was a stunning second half. I have not watched a sporting contest in such disbelief since Cassius Clay beat Sonny Liston. After watching France play some exciting stuff today, to take Scotland apart, its time to reflect on how good we are.

We did play well, but no way should we have won. I have no idea why England lost their heads in the second half. They were like men playing Welsh schoolboys in the first half. So lets not get carried away - at least not yet. Next two matches (at home to Scotland and Italy) we'll be expected to win, so there'll be a bit more pressure. If it is 3 out of 3, there could be enough momentum and confidence to think about winning the championship.

There was a bit of fuss about Gatland's selection of 13 Ospreys in the starting line-up. I thought it was best team, even if not necessarily the best players. The two outstanding replacements were Shanklin and Gethin Jenkins and I think he will start with the Blues centre for the next match. No-one can take away the best weekend's 6 Nations that we Welsh have enjoyed since the grand slam season. Great though it was, its only a start.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Today's Six Nations.

All the family are home this weekend, including Adrienne who is No 3 son, Tim's fiancee from Ireland. We are all going out for dinner. I was going to be the 'designated driver'. I have just booked a taxi. That's assuming no-one hit me on the head at half-time and I dreamed all that came next.

UPDATE - Gatland has just let his secret out of the bag. He's told the BBC that he went into the dressing room at half-time and gave them all a good b*****king and told them that their purpose in taking the field is to "play rugby" and "respect the ball". The man is a maestro.

Big Match Draw.

The final whistle has just gone in today's big game in South London. The Welsh Assembly team has held the House of Commons and Lords Fifteen to a 5-5 draw. Phill, the Welsh team's Head Coach has just texted the result through. This sounds a good result for the visitors. I hope that Alun Cairns scored the try - or at least survived the game unscathed. I will post more details when I have them. At present, all of the players are so knackered that they are incapable of speaking to do any post match interviews. And now onto Twickenham, where I expect Ryan Jones to be the Man-of-the-Match, edging out Sheriden. I cannot bring myself to predict the result because of a conflict between what I want to see happen and what I think will happen. But I do think it will be a close game and that Wales will play well. A 5-5 draw will do nicely. Ireland and Scotland to win the other (tight) matches this weekend.

A Bitter Wind.

Richard Herbert was a 47 year old Norfolk farmer. He was married with 3 children. Today's Telegraph reports that he was an unselfish and sensitive man, who cared a lot about what his neighbours thought of him. Last April, he received a solicitor's letter warning him that he would be sued if he allowed a German renewable energy company to build a wind farm on his land. Two weeks later he tied a weight to his body and committed suicide by jumping into the Middle Level Drain, near his home. Richard Herbert had no history of psychiatric problems.

Reason I noticed this article is that about 3 years ago, a Spanish renewable energy company approached me with a proposition to build a wind farm on land my family owns on the high land between Llanerfyl and Dolanog in Montgomeryshire. At the time this caused me a bit of a problem. Firstly, because I was my party's 'environment' spokesman and opposed to the Government's enthusiasm for on-shore wind farms. Secondly, the area of land in question was only part of the site, and the other landowners were all keen on the project. And thirdly (and most significantly) my immediate family were all keen and outvoted me 5-1 on the issue. It was a touch problematic, and I was much relieved when the Spanish company decided not to proceed with the project.

But this experience gave me an insight into the bitterness which surrounds wind farm proposals. People were telephoning in an aggressive way, late at night, blaming me personally for the proposal. One or two said that they could never vote Conservative while I was involved with the Party. I can still recall being told in a 200 strong public meeting that I wasn't being truthful when I said that I did not own the land on which a wind measuring mast was placed.

That's the thing about about wind farms. Never known anything like them to divide communities and divide families. And they don't even produce much energy. But an army of turbines are about to march onto great tracts of the Welsh uplands. The Government of Wales has decided. The Government, in the form of Technical Advice Note 8, has made it nigh on impossible for Planning Authorities to refuse applications for wind farms in the designated Strategic Search Areas - no matter what they think of the proposal. Thankfully, none of my family own any land involved. No good blame the farmers who have a responsibility to their families to derive income from their land. No good blame the renewable energy companies, who are only responding to Government stimulus. Lets hope that there are not too many other casualties like Richard Herbert.

Parkinson's Disease profile rising.

At yesterday's AGM of the Montgomeryshire Parkinson's Disease Society, I was re-elected President for another year. Really pleased about it. I went to the meeting to support this small local group, and I was unexpectedly entertained by one item of business. The meeting was addressed by a (very nice) lady from the national society explaining that every member of the Committee would be required to go through an 'induction' session - and that specific titles would have to be conferred on some of them to do what they had been doing for years. I could see a tide of antipathy to this bureauocracy swelling up in the breast of the meeting. This is the group of volunteers who have been running this small group for years. The lady did look a bit embarrassed about it. Anyway it was all sorted out with typical Montgomeryshire good humour.

And then today, I've been up to the HQ of EuropeanCare in Liverpool, the company involved in caring for vulnerable people suffering from advancing years and various illnesses (including neurological diseases) that I do some work for. Discussed the idea of participating in a trek to the summit of Mt. Toubkal, North Africa's highest peak and raising money though sponsorship for RESEC (research into elderly and specialist care). And then tonight, Parkinson's Disease was the lead item on Newsnight. It seems that the disease leads to all sorts of compulsive behaviour, including spending money and writing poetry! I've heard this reported before in a semi-humourrous way - but tonight it was being taken seriously. And its time. This blog welcomes the increased awareness of neurological illness that seems to be developing.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Guilty - but in an odd sort of way..

I've never met Labour Assembly Member for Mid and West Wales, Joyce Watson. I suppose she took my spot in the Assembly as a result of last May's election. So far, she has not made much impact - but she has today. She's been all over the media as a result of her being referred to the Assembly Standards Committee for using Assembly stationary and postage to send 2,000 self-promoting leaflets to her constituents. This is against the rules, and it looks to me that she is guilty as charged. The 'Tower' beckons.

But what is odd about this is that if she did this as an MP, there would have been no problem. She would have been perfectly in order to spend £10,000 every year sending out such leaflets - using her 'Communications Allowance'. On my desk today is a glossy leaflet from my local MP informing me of all the meetings he has held over the last year - paid for by the taxpayer. And its not the first time. In my opinion, it is scandalous - and the most scandalous aspect of this is that it is entirely within the rules. (Montgomeryshire people will be interested to see Cllr. Graham Brown of Llandrinio, leading light in the 'Montgomeryshire Independent Group' featuring so prominently on a Lib Dem leaflet. Perhaps he's defecting to the Lib Dems).

I suppose that the Standards Committee should demand that Joyce Watson should repay the money because it looks an 'open and shut case. But I can understand why she would feel sore about this. Why on earth is it (rightly) improper for Assembly Members to distribute unsolicited mail at the taxpayer's expence, while MPs can carry on doing the same thing regardless. This blog demands yet again that MP's Communications Allowance be banned.