Monday, June 30, 2008

Back to School.

Visited two Montgomeryshire Primary Schools today, including my old primary school, hoping to learn something about the 'Foundation Phase'. This is the Assembly Government's revolutionary way of teaching 3-7 year olds - through play, rather than sitting them down at the desk listening to teacher. It all sounded a bit dodgy to me - and Alun Cairns had been telling me about how the whole thing is grossly underfunded. Anyway, I thought I'd go and talk to some of professionals at the chalk face.

Have to admit that I'm persuaded (conditionally). The first School I went to has been a 'pilot', where this new way of teaching has been tried out. The head, who is a good friend of mine, swears by the new system. Too early for measuring outcomes yet, but I respect his judgement. The other School, where I spent six years of my own childhood had real concerns. The Headteacher is enthusiastic about the new way of teaching, but isn't sure that there will be enough money to deliver it. And that is the nub of the issue.

The Assembly Government itself recognises that it needs a teacher to every 8 pupils for it to work, (in the early years) and not enough money has been allocated to fund this. Interestingly, I'm told that the introduction of the Foundation Phase will be mandatory from September, but the pupil/teacher ratio will not be mandatory - suggesting a recognition that the funding is not going to be there. And that's the reason my willingness to welcome the scheme is only 'conditional'. We do not know how successful 'teaching through play' will be if it is not properly funded. This is probably the most significant policy difference that's emerged between Wales and England since devolution. Its a really big deal, and I want to fully understand it. So I've asked my PA to fix up more visits to schools.

Feeling the Pressure.

Now I'm really feeling the pressure. Superblogger, Iain Dale has told David Williamson of the Western Mail today, that his own favourite Welsh blog is this one. People will be now be visiting, and I don't want to let Iain down. I wish I'd known this morning. I'd have walked the streets of Newtown and Welshpool - with an air of grandeur about me. I'd have taken a pen so that I could sign the inevitable autographs. (Oh how I'd like to be in a position to resent signing autographs). I'd have noticed the people pointing at me, and mouthing silently "That's him, Dale's favourite". Maybe tomorrow.

And Iain also likes Peter Black's blog, because he doesn't just churn out a 'party line' that favours his own party. So I'll try to please Iain by posting something helpful to Peter's party, the Liberal Democrats - an extract from a letter that Lembit Opik and Mick Bates have been circulating around Welshpool today. A few of them have been delivered in my office by the recipients. So I'll help spread the message. The third paragraph reads (and this is precise);

"I am organising a public meeting in Welshpool Town Hall on Monday June 30 at 10.30am which you are more than welcome to attend, wether you have any problems with your own pension or not. I am keen to hear the views of those of you with your own problems, as well as those of you who don't."

Perhaps he had been to Welshopool Market today, where wethers are occasionally sold. For those of you who don't know, a wether is a castrated male sheep. Which reminds me of the farmer who had taken his prize ram, for which he had paid a small fortune to the vet because he did not seem to have the proper degree of enthusiasm for the duties for which he had been purchased. The vet informed the farmer that unfortunately the ram was impotent. As driving home, he passed one of his neighbours, and wound down his Landrover window for a chat. "Nice weather" said his neighbour. "He bloody well will be as soon as I get him home" was the reply.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

A Service with Style

This afternoon, the incoming Chair of Powys County Council, Cllr. Miss Viola Evans, held her Civic Service at St. Mary's Church, Llanfair Caereinion. The lovely old church was full. There were chains of office in abundance. The whole event was quite an occasion. Nice to see Mick Bates, Lib Dem Assembly Member for Montgomeryshire out and about - first time since his recent hip operation. He looked cheerful, but not too comfortable. He clearly needs a bit more recuperation time before he's well enough for me to resume hostilities

The Montgomeryshire Ladies Choir (Merched Maldwyn) entertained us, and local undertaker, Geraint Peate treated us to a fine solo. I was particularly taken by Ruth Gittins singing 'Cartref'. And we had a mystery as well. The Reverend Peter Williams, Chairman's Chaplain based what was billed in the programme as his 'Address' on a discussion that might have taken place between Jesus and his Disciples. After a few minutes of a supposed dialogue, based on the absence of bread for supper, and who forgot to get it, I realised that I hadn't got a clue what he was talking about - The Reverend Williams that is. This rankled with me through the rest of the Service, so after it was over, I asked several people to explain - but no-one else had understood the message either. I think it was a story that needed a 100% sound system. I won't be satisfied until I find out.

And then back up to my old high school where there was a sumptuous three course Civic Reception, and more entertainment from Ruth Gittins and her Choir. The do was in the Leisure Centre which has been built where the old bike shed used to be. Actually, it was more of a lawn mower tractor shed, but it played the same role in the teenager's education at Llanfair as bike sheds traditionally did in other schools. Things have moved on a lot since I was Chairman of Montgomeryshire District Council, when we didn't do anything formal at all. It was a good do though, and Viola looked regal yet again. And there were several exotic ladies hats on display.

Rambling Rector

Just one photograph this week. This is not a post about some reverend gentleman who has strayed from the path of righteousness. It is about the white rambling rose that rambles freely through the cherry tree in front of our house. In fact, its the only reason that the cherry has survived. I parked my car under the tree to give you an idea of its size.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Still President.

Annual General Meeting of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales this afternoon. I'd been elected President last year, so was chairing the meeting. I'd expected to be facing another election to-day, but it seems that the President is elected for life. Or at least until such time as he wants to stand down. Gordon Brown would be green with envy if he knew about this constitutional arrangement. On refection, if he was that sort of green it wouldn't do so much harm. Unfortunately, to the Prime Minister 'green' as the just the colour of the packaging he uses to make his rapacious countryside-despoiling policies seem benign.

His policy of ripping off the car owner by massively increasing the cost of a car licence was supposedly a ' green' policy. According to today's Telegraph he's backing down on this one. Then there's what he and his Ministers call eco-towns. This is supposed to be a 'green' policy - which is an abuse of the English Language. A policy about as green as the hot blood of the Englishmen who love the countryside that's going to disappear under this 'green' concrete. And then there's the shiny new Commission that he's just forced his backbenchers to vote for, who will be charged with approving the 8,000 new wind turbines that he announced yesterday are going to be built, whether we like it or not.

But back to the AGM. It was a very good meeting. I opened with much praise for our Chairman, Jean Rosenfeld, who took over as 'acting' Chairman during the year. When I was elected President twelve months ago, there had much dissent and bad feeling in the camp, and I was not at all sure how it would work out. Well, its worked out very well indeed - and most of its down to Jean. He's engaged with members and branches the length of Wales. He's listened and talked with all opinion, and established clarity in how we operate. The result has been an easy, almost Presidential ride for me, and a very nice positive friendly meeting today. Now if only we could replace Gordon Brown with Jean Rosenfeld, our countryside would be much more safe from despoilation.

My Wimbledon Post.

A few weeks back, I ran into a spot of turbulence when I published a mildly sexist post about Ms Fiona Shackleton, Sir Paul McCartney's solicitor. The BBC brought the matter to the attention of the wider public, and specifically Cardiff MP, Ms Jenny Willott, who roundly condemned what I'd written. As a consequence of the publicity, this blog's visitor total for that day shot up to a 1000, from its usual 300 or so. Now just imagine what would have happened if I'd written the sort of things that Justin Gimelstob said on the American radio programme, The Junkies.

Now, Mr Gimelstob is an important person in the tennis world. He's a former Australian and French Open Champion (mixed doubles) and has just been elected to the ATP board, which controls the men's game. This is a sample of what he said, as reported in today's Telegraph.

He judged Tatiana Golovin and Alize Cornet of France to be respectively "a sexpot" and "a little sexpot". He also described Czech Nicole Vaidisova to be "a well developed young lady". And all of this on air, going out live. He was altogether less complimentary about Anna Kournikova, whom I think I'm allowed to describe as an extremely attractive young woman. "She's a bitch .....I despise her the maximum level below hate" said Justin to his American audience. When asked if he himself would like to walk out with Anna (I'm trying to be proper) he said "I have no attraction for her. She has a great body but her face is a five" - and went on to say that he wouldn't mind having his "younger brother, who's a kind of a stud, nail her and reap the benefits of that." Blimey. Don't even think about politics Justin.

Mr Gimelstob has apologised to all those offended, and conceded that he could see how his words could have been taken as not having the greatest respect for women. He still plays professionally in the World Team Tennis Pro League. His punishment for the above was to be suspended for one match without pay. I bet that makes the offended ladies feel better.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Bad week for democracy.

No, I'm not talking about Zimbabwe, where a murderous dictator has made a farce of the election process. In fact, no physical violence has been involved. But democracy has suffered a grievous blow nonetheless. What I'm commenting on is happening right here, under our noses, in Britain.

Our Government has decided that it is no longer going to bother trying to persuade the British people to accept nuclear power stations, or huge new wind farms, or a barrage across the River Severn. Gordon Brown has has come up with a much better ruse. You could call it his own version of a 'Third Way'. He's decided to speed things up by forcing through an Act of Parliament to remove powers to decide all of these controversial things from the democratic process altogether. In future, these decisions will be taken by a 'Commission' of Government appointed 'experts' instead, working within overall Government policy.

All of this will cause anguish to anyone who loves the beauty of our landscapes. The Government's intention is to make wind turbines "as familiar as pylons". As if that makes it any more acceptable. There will be much gnashing of teeth at the Annual General Meeting of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales in Newtown tomorrow. It seems that I am the only name up for the position of President again this year, the 80th year of the organisation's existence. I received my copy of Cymru Wledig/Rural Wales in the post this morning and I quote my own words from my personal contribution on page one.

"Much has changed over the last 80 years, but the need for CPRW has not. The consequences of an expanding population, ever growing demands for energy, greater awareness of climate change, and an increasing threat to rural services make the need for a rural 'Watchdog' as relevant as ever".

Labour trounces Bananaman Owen.

This is just about the only positive 'spin' that Labour can put on it. At least they did manage to beat Bananaman Owen, even if it was a damn close run thing. What a disaster for the Labour Party was yesterday's Henley By-election. And even more of a disaster for Gordon Brown on the first anniversary of his assuming the Premiership. The obvious question. Are Labour really going to carry on standing by this man, as the voters heap such humiliating judgements on his leadership?

Tories win in Henley is no big deal, but its worth looking at the figures. To a large extent, the Conservative vote is a side issue, though it was a plus that it went up 3.46% to 57%. The Lib Dem vote was a bit more significant, in that it hardly advanced at all (1.84%) - which must have come as a huge disappointment to Stephen Kearney and Nick Clegg, bearing in mind the Labour meltdown. Labour voters are simply not switching to the Lib Dems any more.

But third up were the Greens, and then the BNP, which is itself a story. Labour fell over 11% to just 3% of the vote. Now no-one would pretend that Labour were in with a shout of winning, but this result is a disaster on an epic scale. Its even worse than the opinion poll story, and that is a 'Novel from Hell' at the moment. Of course its possible that Gordon Brown can turn the whole thing around, but we've now had over six months of a steadily deteriorating position for Labour. I really do think there must be a chance that if things don't improve by the conference season, there will begin a groundswell of sympathy for a change of captain - and a General Election next June.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Common Sense at Llanidloes.

Occasionally, I attend a meeting which gives me some faith that 'common sense' has not completely deserted discussion about how we organise our health care system. It was a meeting about the future of the Community Hospital at Llanidloes, which has been operating under a 'Sword of Damocles' for years. What was so very good about tonight's meeting was that it was local people and organizations (or what are today referred to as stakeholders)discussing a sensible and realistic way forward, and not discussing some diktat from the Assembly Government. There was a recognition that the much loved Memorial Hospital would have to change to survive, and become an "Integrated Health and Social Care Facility". I was there as a 'substitute' for regional AM, Nick Bourne, and I'm not blogging about the detail because I don't know what was and wasn't public. But I will say that Llanidloes is fortunate to have a GP Surgery as committed to the town as that which Dr Stephen Leslie is part of. There are some really major issues to be addressed and this blog will return to this subject when I know the status of the meeting.

I'm Ugly - Official.

I think Councillor Bobby Mills was trying to be kind to us. A certain Ritchie Marriot had written a letter to the Editor of The Montgomeryshire County Times last week dismissing Cllr. Mills as a 'Tory'. Today's edition includes Cllr. Mills denial that he has ever been any such thing, but that he had found these 'Tories' to be far more responsive to his appeals for support than had been the Lib Dems. He then went on to claim that the Lib Dems only show any interest if there's a camera about. And he added "Conservatives are not photogenic, and gain respect from the public by doing the job, and not just to fill the local press with their involvement". Well, I know that I'm no oil painting, but I don't expect my friends to write to the newspapers to highlight it.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Is the GOWA working

Been down to Cardiff Bay today, and called in at my old stamping ground in the Sennedd. Leads me to reflect on how the devolution process is working out under the 2006 Act. My new focus on Westminster leaves less room for the sort of reflection I used to indulge in quite often. One benefit of this is that it leads to less abuse from devo-sceptics. But the whole devolution issue does remain of great interest to me.

There were two fundamental changes in the constitutional position from May 2007. Firstly, the separation of the 'Executive' from the 'Legislature' - the end of the status of the National Assembly for Wales as a 'corporate body'. This seems to be working OK.

The second change was the granting of law making powers to the Assembly by a complex system of Legislative Competence Orders. Regular readers of this blog will know that I consider this system to be "a constitutional crisis waiting to happen" - and leads to a lack of accountability, because so few people understand it. But we're now 14 months into the new system. So lets examine the experience.

At the Assembly end, the AMs have been busy. Twelve or thirteen LCOs have been announced. No big surprise there. But what about the next steps. I'm told that only three LCOs have been submitted to Westminster, and two of those have been significantly changed to establish agreement between officials at both ends of the M4. Just one has progressed through the system and been given Royal Assent.

I'm not sure what ambitions the architects of the 2006 Act had in mind, but I feel sure it was significantly greater than this. It stimulates reflection on what impact this power transfer system will have on moving to the part of the Act which provides for a referendum on full law making powers in all devolved areas. We know that the Labour-Plaid Coalition is built on this happening in 2010 - while I believe that this 'promise' is being quietly shunted into the long grass. I've no doubt that some will see the slow progress as strengthening the case for a Yes vote (and I do think the proposed LCO which would transfer powers to suspend the 'right-to-buy' was designed to promote dissension). Others may feel that the air of negativity than the lack of progress creates will give succour to the No vote. Personally, I subscribe to the latter view, which is why I always advocated a series of highly uncontentious LCO proposals in the early stages, to establish the system as an accepted part of the constitution. Reflection over. I wonder whether others will join in.

Germans beat Turkeys

Watched the semi-final between Germany and Turkey tonight. Very upsetting. The courageous Turks deserved it, but the resilient Germans nicked it, as has so often happened before. Best moment was Marcel Desailly's comment at half-time, when he referred to the 'Turkeys' outplaying the 'Germans'. I wasn't concentrating fully at the time, so I'm not sure whether Marcel's English was at fault, whether he was commenting on how the Turks were playing, or whether he'd been inspired by the infamous Sun headline, Swedes 2 - Turnips 1, when Graham Taylor's England lost an international.

Daniel's Carrots

You might wonder why I link the welfare of Shrewsbury MP, Daniel Kawczynski's carrots with the threat of riots in some of the poorest countries of the world. But I do. The precise details of the saga of Daniel's carrots is not known to me. However, I did learn from his letter, printed in today's Telegraph, that he grows organic carrots, that they have been attacked by carrot fly, and that he was refused the insecticide needed by his local garden centre because it has been banned by the European Union. There will be no home grown carrots on the Kawczynski table this year - in itself not a world shattering event. But read on.

This issue has a wider relevance than the impact on the carrot growers of Shawbury, where Daniel, Kate and little Alexis live. This is because the EU has introduced an effective ban on many widely used insecticides - often by requiring a safety assessment that is so expensive, that it's cost-effective only for products that enjoy a very high sales base. Much of this may well have environment justification, but there will be significant reductions in grain yields as a result. The Home Grown Cereals Association is already issuing dire warnings.

At a time when the cost of grain is already flying because of increasing demand in the emerging economies, together with the diversion of millions of acres of crops into food for power stations rather than food for hungry human mouths. Already there are food shortage riots in several African countries. Its going to get a whole lot worse. And there will be another more controversial consequence. As a result of the switch to bio-fuels, and reduced access to selective pesticides, it will become impossible to resist the advance of Genetically Modified Crops. Just wait for it. Its going to be the next hot food issue.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Better safe than sorry.

Top story on the front page (an page 2) of today's Telegraph is Lord Carlile, the Government's anti-terrorism advisor, warning of the possibility of terrorist missions being launched from small airfields by light aircraft. I'm always interested in Lord Carlile's comments, at least in part because he used to live next door to us in Berriew. The Telegraph have gone so big on this that readers will naturally assume that there was some sort of evidence or intelligence suggesting that this form of terrorism is a new and growing threat. But it seems not.

On reading the article, the warning does not appear to be based on any intelligence whatsoever. Perhaps Alex Carlile was influenced by all the light aircraft that started to circle above his and our houses after the new Welshpool Airport was opened a few years ago. Or perhaps he's more aware of this danger because his successor as MP for Montgomeryshire is forever flying around the place in his light aeroplane. Now, this is not to suggest that it's not a sensible warning. There are 8,500 private aircraft flying out of 500 airstrips of varying size in Britain, many of them having only minimum security. And there are 160 unlicensed airports in Britain. Plenty of scope there.

Not everyone seems to be impressed with this high profile warning. Martin Robinson, Chief Exec of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association described the risk as no greater than that of a jeep being used to deliver explosives through the door of a building. The Home Secretary noted Lord Carlile's "observation that there is no intelligence to suggest that this forms part of terrorist thinking". And Tory Spokesman, Baroness Neville-Jones said "We must direct resources on the basis of intelligence". My first reading suggested that there was nothing significant in this story, and it looks as if others share this opinion. Trouble now is that the Government has to do something in response - or it will be held culpable if a terrorist incident involving a light aeroplane happens.

Monday, June 23, 2008

So Its all Mrs T's fault

Gordon Brown really is the pits. Having become the most unpopular Prime Minister of modern times, and leading one of the most unpopular Government of modern times, he has spent today trying to pile blame for Labour's failings on Mrs Thatcher. Today's particular issue is social mobility. Our 'moral compass' Prime Minister, who only last year was trying to rub up against Mrs T, in an attempt to benefit from her growing fan club, is now trying to blame her for his own failure to meet child poverty targets. But the evidence suggests that the positions has actually deteriorated under Labour. I suppose we could call this a diversionary tactic if there was the slightest chance that anyone will give his 'spin' any credibility whatsoever.

After 11 years of Labour Government in which Gordon Brown has controlled the public finances, British people born poor stay poor. Even in the area where his rhetoric is strongest, the Prime Minister's performance is failure. And what is he proposing to reverse this. Some quite small scale pilot projects, the one being given prominence by the BBC being to give public money to families who join schemes which include health checks and nutritional advice to improve social development. I'm not going to disagree with this until I see what evidence the proposal is based on - but it does smack of Gordon Brown's belief that just throwing public money at every problem is the answer. But by trying to throw all the blame on a woman, who was ten times the man he is, Gordon Brown has diminished himself in the eyes of the British people today.

Standing in for the Mayor

Been down to visit the local squadron of the Air Training Corps in Welshpool tonight. I went at the invitation of Welshpool Mayor, Councillor Anne Holloway. And because she wasn't able to make it, I found myself stepping in to make the official presentation of the £4114 cheque from the Lottery Fund to Sue Watter, one of the parents representing the Civilian Committee of the Squadron. This Committee deals with all financial matters relating to the Squadron.

The Air Training Corps are a great organisation, instilling in youngsters between 13-20 a sense of responsibility, self-discipline and team spirit. There are approximately 30 squadrons across the North Wales Wing, involving about 750 youngsters. The Squadron meets twice a week and activities involve flying opportunities in RAF aircraft and visits to RAF bases. There are 900 Squadrons in the UK, and it was a pleasure for me to meet Graham Moore and others who give of their time to enable the Welshpool Squadron to function.

The stats are impressive. Probably over 25,000 Air Cadets in the UK. This year Air Cadets will spend 50,000 hours flying. 20,000 cadets and staff will take part in adventure training activities. 12,000 cadets and staff will go on summer camps. 3,000 cadets will achieve Duke of Edinburgh Awards. 1,000 cadets will qualify for BTEC Certificates. All in all, a top organisation.

Swallowing my Pride.

Until today, I have declined to apply for my Senior Railcard. I suppose I didn't want to be be the owner of a card which challenged my sense of youthfulness and vibrancy. Pathetic I know. But I'm travelling a bit more by train at the moment, and the cost has gone through the roof. The blood of a Welsh hill sheep farmer runs through my viens - so today, I swallowed my pride and trundled off down to the Council Offices in Welshpool, and filled in the appropriate form. The deed is done.

It didn't hurt anything like as much as when I was banned from playing from the Assembly's rugby team on the grounds that I'm too old. I'm told that the team has become affiliated to the Welsh Rugby Union, and there is no insurance cover for players over 55. This is disgracefully ageist, and should be investigated by the Older Person's Commissioner. To make it even more ridiculous, I was talking to a parliamentarian significantly older than I am, and he still plays for the Westminster rugby team. So I will be able to make my next comeback only if I win Montgomeryshire at the next General Election.

One thing seems a bit odd though. I'm just reading the leaflet which outlines what it calls 'Epic Savings for over 60s', which informs me that it is going to cost me £24. Well, I didn't pay anything at all. The best of this is that in future, I'll be able to join in all these discussions I've been missing out on, about how much money I've saved on my train journeys.

Caught in the 'Arsct'

Fascinating debate taking place on Peter Black's blog about whether Ms Eleanor Burnham, AM used the word "arse" in the National Assembly debating chamber last week. Spin Doctor in his column in the Wales on Sunday started things off by claiming that she did - but Peter has claimed that this was 'lazy journalism' because it was only on the basis of an inaccurate blog post from Alwyn. Peter took exception and claimed he had checked the video evidence and reassuring us that she told the First Minister to "get your act together", only for this more lady-like, sanitised version to be challenged by Frank Little, who also claims to have reviewed the video evidence. Peter then backtracked in commentss, ever so marginally, to admit that she did not fully pronounce the offending word, using only a half of the first syllable. There doesn't seem much doubt that Ms Burnham was intent on advising the First Minister of the National Assembly for Wales to "get his a*** into gear", but adjusted this to say something like "Get your arsct together". Either way, it was an admirable bit of quick thinking on her part. By the way, isn't there just one syllable in a***. I think we need an inquiry to get to the bottom of this.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

80th Birthday Celebration

Been to a performance by the strings section of the National Orchestra of Wales at the Gregynog Festival tonight. The Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales sponsored the event as part of its anniversary celebrations. 80 years ago a group of like-minded lovers of rural Wales were so concerned about threats to the landscape that it formed the CPRW. Today the threats are greater than ever, consequent on rising population levels in the United Kingdom, and its insatiable appetite for energy. I am the current President of CPRW, so tonight I was acting as host at a pre-concert reception.

One of the group who met 80 years ago to form CPRW was Gwendoline Davies, who with her sister Margaret, famously did so much for the cultural life of Wales and Montgomeryshire, centred on Gregynog, location of tonight's event. The sisters launched the first Gregynog Festival 75 years ago, so it was a double anniversary tonight, linked by the Davies sisters. It was a special event that warranted a special concert. That's what we got.

I was sitting next to Lord Thomas of Gresford, who is this year's President of the Montgomeryshire Society, which organises a literary competition for local schools. When he was presenting some of the prizes at my old High School at Llanfair Caereinion, he'd asked one of the winners, who had told him he was going to be a farmer, "What are you going to farm". Back came the answer "Windmills". Clearly there remains a role for CPRW.

Peruvian Lilies

Alsteomarias are just about the best herbaceous plants that can be grown in a British garden. The range of colour is everything but blue.
Only downside with some Alsteomarias is that many are weak of stem and prone to fall over. Try different varieties and grow those that suit your garden.
When the first flush of flowers die, just grip the stems and pull them up. A second flush will soon follow. They'll carry on flowering until the frost
To expand, just transplant a spadeful of root and water in. The foliage will die off, but quickly shoot up again. They're not fussy but do like a reasonable depth of soil.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Owen and Jones of Newtown.

Friend of mine, Dr Peter Starbuck came over for tea this afternoon. Peter has recently been awarded his doctorate as a consequence of his study of 'the father of modern management, Peter Drucker. He came over to collect some cuttings that I was growing on for him, and for a discussion about the two most famous sons of Newtown in Montgomeryshire, Robert Owen and Pryce Jones. Peter takes the view that Robert Owen is one of the greatest authorities in the field of management that the world has ever seen, and that Newtown does not make anything like enough of its association with such a great man. I refer to this two hours of conversation as a warning that this blog will be referring to the work of these two famous sons of Montgomeryshire over the next few weeks.

Half an Apology

So Andy Burnham has finally apologised to Shami Chakrabarti, the Director of Liberty, for his disgraceful attempt to smear by innuendo. He had referred to "late night, hand wringing, heart melting phone calls" between her and David Davis, former Shadow Home Secretary. The Telegraph is reporting that a fulsome written apology has been sent to Ms Chakrabarti - and quite right to. But what about Mr and Mrs Davis. Shouldn't Mr Burnham write a letter of apology to them as well. Or have we reached the stage when politicians can be treated without the respect that is expected to be shown towards everyone else. Mr Burnham should remember that politicians who scrabble around in the gutter find that there are lots of other slimy creatures down there who behave in the same disreputable way.

Friday, June 20, 2008

A Tale of Two Countries.

Ventured over Offa's Dyke today to meet Tom Taylor, Chief Exec of the Shrewsbury and Telford Healthcare Trust. He's a blunt speaking man. Doesn't mince his words. Recently, he told a Westminster Select Committee that his Trust is £2 million down annually, because its paid less to treat Welsh patients than its paid to treat English patients. He still wants to treat them though, which is more than you can say for the Healthcare Trust in Bristol. Chatham House rules apply.

But some things are on the record. When I first met Tom, around three years ago, the Trust was a basket case. Debts around £35 million, and a 'must be repaid' loan from the Department of Health. Looked impossible, but Tom Taylor, with the help of others, has turned it around. £4.0 million repayment last year and on schedule for debt wipe out in two years time. It even looks as if the 'basket case' could be a Foundation Trust in the very near future. The Royal Shrewsbury is 'our' local DGH, as it is for all the people of Montgomeryshire.

Different picture in Powys, where I live. Debts are running away, and all of the local Community Hospitals have been deemed to be clinically unsafe (or some similar description). Its a financial disaster. It seems a pity to me that there is not some way of transporting the management expertise and financial discipline that's done the business in Shropshire, over the border into Powys. Should add that I have no criticism of the newly installed executive bosses at Powys LHB, whom I hear good things about.

And our discussions today really highlight the utterly appalling performance of the Assembly Government regarding renal dialysis. When I first discussed the issue with Tom Taylor three years ago, there was a base unit at Shrewsbury, and because of increasing demand, the intention was to create 6 bed satellite units at Welshpool and Telford. Well Telford was built, and because nothing happened in Wales, it was decided to increase Telford to a 20 bed satellite unit - and now that's been built as well, and opened. And Welshpool? You've guessed it. Still nothing. If there is one failure that has undermined confidence in the National Assembly in my part of Wales, it is this. The cost would be about £2 million, less than 10% of the annual cost of free prescriptions. Frankly, it brings shame on the Assembly Government.

Long odds - at 60 - 1

No blogging yesterday. Otherwise occupied. Entertained 60 ladies from Welshpool Flower Club to tea. So had to trim the lawns and tidy my borders in preparation all morning. They swept in at two o'clock, loaded with cups, cucumber sandwiches and cakes for the tea which followed a couple of hours later. I enjoy sharing the garden with fellow enthusiasts, but 60 at once is a bit daunting, unless you happen to be a chimpanzee of course, in which case its 'the more the merrier'. And then it was a garden visit to the splendid garden of Roger and Angela Hughes at Castell-y-Gwynt, near the Monument, on the hill above Montgomery. I think the Flower Club Ladies liked the views from the 'mount' that we've built in our garden, but the views of Montgomeryshire from Castell-y-Gwynt are something else again. Do not miss any opportunity you might be offered to visit. Its special.

Anyway, only just catching up with yesterday's Telegraph, and another pigeon story caught the eye. Page 2 reports that a 13 year old racing pigeon named Boomerang finally returned to its home in Skipton 10 years after it had been released in Spain. Dino Rearden, Boomerang's owner had bred pigeons for the RAF during the Second World War was immediately recognised and I imagine there was a meeting a bit like happens in some of those car adverts. We were not told whether Boomerang had simply stayed in Spain for the sangria and senoritas, or had been keeping his head down after all hearing Dino's pep talks about dodging bombs and doodlebugs. Lloyd George was reputed to take a week to travel from Cardiff to Caernarfon because he had so many places to call on the way. As it happens, Mrs Jean Windsor was telling me yesterday afternoon about a snail which had reappeared after 2 years. It seems that some young members of her family had organised a wild snail racing competition and had painted numbers on the shells - and one had reappeared on her hostas.

And then a second Telegraph story on page 15. This time how bad boys like Daniel Craig (with whom I once posted photographs on this blog to display a resemblance with myself), Mick Jagger and Warren Beattie manage to 'pull' so many sexual partners. New Mexico State University have done extensive research into this, and have discovered a chimpanzee tendency amongst women. Other research has recently revealed that female chimps spend all of their time putting themselves about, and sharing their sexual favours with as many males as possible. The idea is to create such confusion when a baby chimp is born that every male in the parish buys the little darling birthday presents. Anyway the secret formula seems to be to lie, manipulate, be selfish, narcissistic and impulsive with total disregard to the consequences. The results of the study were presented at the Human Behavioural and Evolution Society conference in Kyoto, and clearly indicate that there is some empirical evidence for 'treating 'em rough', as a rather uncouth rugby playing friend of mine used to advocate. Which reminds me of a political friend (you know who you are) who reckoned that if you walked down the street and asked every woman if she would "go to bed", 1.62% would say yes. And he seemed very sure of his figures. Now that works out at about 1 in 60, which brings me back to where I started this post 10 minutes ago.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Tipping Point approaching ?

Since 18th September, 1997, I've accepted that the National Assembly for Wales is a permanent feature of the British Constitution. I've gone further than that. Since the referendum was lost (my perspective at the time), I've advocated that the toothless creature which began operations in May, 1999, should be granted law making powers in those subject areas devolved, without which it would not be worthwhile, or genuinely accountable. In May, 2006, the capacity for the Assembly to receive law making powers were granted by Act of Parliament, but by a complex system which I've consistently described as a "constitutional crisis waiting to happen" and as a "ticking time-bomb under the Union". Unsurprisingly, I've finished up taking 'stick' from both sides.

Yesterday, I shared two telephone conversations which caused me to revisit the main reason I was opposed to devolution in 1997. I reckoned Montgomeryshire would lose out more if 'Government' were to be based in Cardiff, than if it if it were to be based at Westminster. I reckoned that the M4 corridor would dominate in a devolved Wales. So lets look at what's happened. Not easy because the overall level of tax/spend has increased so much under Labour. Things like 'free provision for all' influences objective judgement. Its painful for me to acknowledge that in my opinion, the balance sheet of benefit to Montgomeryshire is in big deficit. That was just one sentence in a blog post, that 300 people at most will read, but I thought carefully and deliberately before writing it. It was born out of a sense of despair.

The economy seems to have gone backwards. Council services are going the same way, remote and centralised, outside the old county. Roads policy is a disaster. I have not the slightest doubt that the road improvement between Welshpool and the English border would have been finished by now if devolution had not taken place. I also sense, (but without the same degree of certainty), that a Newtown By-pass would be much further advanced. We just have empty promises. And then there's the health service.

The determination by the first Assembly Health Minister to 'do things differently in Wales' delivered shockingly long waiting times for elective treatment. We saw massive discrimination, compared with our neighbours over Offa's Dyke. Devolution has interfered with, and greatly damaged the traditional healthcare pathways that Montgomeryshire patients were used to. And confidence in the Cardiff based Assembly to deliver for our area has plummeted. There is just no delivery for us. We feel that we are off the Cardiff radar.

It wouldn't take that much. A new road improvement at Middletown or Newtown perhaps. Or the much promised satellite renal dialysis unit at Welshpool. The Assembly Government just doesn't get it. Doesn't realise how let down, and stranded we feel. It takes a fair bit to get me down, but that's how I feel about devolution tonight. But I do feel better for getting that off my chest.

Boris is back.

I was always concerned about Boris Johnson going into politics. It seemed such a terrible loss to journalism. But this literary colossus can do both jobs - easy as riding a bike. Is there no limit to his talent? Today, he's back, adorning the centre pages of the Telegraph, and using his bicycle helmet as a means to peddle his support for David Davis.

I've never actually worn a bicycle helmet. But then I haven't ridden a bicycle since the part of my body which would be in contact with the seat, was radically redesigned a few years back. So Boris has laid down the challenge. To ride again, or not to ride. And there's the inevitable question. To don the helmet, or go to jail, which could well necessitate the release of a violent criminal to accommodate me. But now that I know Boris is back, doing what he does better than anyone else, I can retire to bed happy and content that the world is a better place.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

And yet more nonsense.

15 minutes past midnight, and found another bit of nonsense. At least it seems so to me. Perhaps because I've always had a good head for heights. People with short legs usually have good balance. Remember that the BBC's, Roy Noble and I were discussing starting 'The 29 inch inside leg club' a few months back. So I have no problem climbing ladders - to any height. OK, so I nearly did myself serious mischief once when I fell off a ladder, or more accurately the ladder fell off me. I was picking apples from the tree, and had hung the basket by an S hook from the branch which was bearing them. The transfer of apples from branch to basket had no effect whatsoever on the height of the branch from which I was garnering the fruit - until I lifted the basket, whereupon the branch rose above the top of the ladder. Just managed to grab and hang on to the branch to save myself. Not even a bruise which is more than you can say for the apples.

Until today, I'd always put this near-accident down to my own stupidity, or to not having paid enough attention in my physics classes. But No. It was because I hadn't received any 'ladder training'. I hadn't read the booklet published by the Health and Safety Executive called 'Climbing Safely'.

Reason this is an issue is because another Telegraph story which appealed to me today was about a school caretaker who is suing Hampshire County Council for £50,000 after falling off a step ladder. In fact it seems that he had received some 'ladder training', but not enough to ensure that he didn't fall off and injure himself. In future, there will have to be two men in attendance to hold the step ladder before anyone will be allowed to use such a dangerous piece of equipment. Wouldn't surprise me if one of our newer universities doesn't start running a degree course in Ladder Use.

Banning the Brown Infidel

15 minutes before midnight. Just back from a day trip to Edinburgh, working for the European Care Group. Need to unwind before bed, so looking through the Telegraph for the ridiculous. And sure enough. It seems that The Vatican has taken the hump big-time with Dan Brown. It hasn't forgiven him for suggesting that Jesus might have been secretly married to Mary Magdelene, in 'The De Vinci Code'. As if anyone would swallow that bit of outrageous fantasy. The only book that I've read that was even less believable was 'Angels and Demons' by the same author - a sort of 'Indianna Jones saves The Vatican and gets the girl'. Complete tosh, but a great read.

Anyway, Sony Pictures is turning this unlikely tale of 'Science v Religion' into a film, and wanted to add a little authenticity by shooting some scenes in Rome's Catholic Churches. No chance. Vatican spokesman, Father Marco Fibbi said

"Usually we read the script, but in this case it wasn't necessary. Just the name, Dan Brown was enough. 'Angels and Demons' peddles a type of fantasy that damages our common religious beliefs, just like 'The De Vinci Code'did.

Dan Brown must be rubbing his hands in delighted anticipation as he counts all the extra dollars that this ban will put in his wallet. And what a wasted opportunity to put some euros in The Vatican's coffers. Just remember what filming 'The Prisoner' did for visitor numbers to Portmeirion.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Blue Green Charter

This is not sycophancy. I genuinely believe that David Cameron's speech today on how we can adjust our economy to accommodate the necessary changes to meet the climate change challenge was an outstandingly good speech.

I'll just reproduce one small section, under the sub heading 'Scale of Change'.

We won't achieve this with half-measures or with a half baked attitude. We'll only get the big benefits of going green if we're really ambitious and really change the way we do things. What I'm talking about is one of the most radical technological social shifts for generations. I'm talking about reconfiguring our whole economy and overturning our whole hydrocarbon dependency.

I'm talking about completely changing the way we heat our homes, travel to work and produce our food. I'm talking about bringing into everyday use technologies that are still in laboratories and developing in laboratory technologies that haven't even been thought of yet. Of course, this won't happen overnight. But it won't happen at all without public and political will. That is the great challenge for our generation.

So happens I've been involved in an informal meeting this afternoon where this issue was under discussion - so its very much in my mind. So I go to bed feeling guilty - because I'm off to Manchester first thing in the morning, for onward flight to Edinburgh. So won't be at the keyboard til around midnight tomorrow.

Davis - tilting at real giants.

I must stop blogging about David Davis' stunning deision to resign last week. But this in today's Telegraph is the best article about the issue that I've read so far.

I'm Normal - Official.

This morning, Shirley Pickstock looked me straight in the eye and told me that "I'm normal". Such a message might not be a big deal to most of you, but it represents massive reassurance to a politician. I don't know how general she meant this comment to apply, but I have to admit that it might have been limited to my lung capacity.

We were at Morrison's in Welshpool, where Shirley, who works for Powys Local Health Board was promoting awareness of lung disease. She told me that while there are 900,000 people in the UK currently being treated for lung disease, there are thought to be another 2.8 million who are sufferers, and taking no action to deal with it. Much of the cause of lung disease is smoking, and because its thought that breathing difficulties are to some extent self inflicted consequences, sufferers are inhibited from seeking treatment.

Anyway, when I took my breath test, I came up 'normal'. Only question-mark I was left with was that the next man up hit the maximum, and he's a smoker. The logic of this is best left unwritten.

My friend, Alun Cairns.

This is more a non-post. I'm not going to add any fuel. I've refused interviews on this issue, and I can't remember doing that very often. But I just want to write that Alun Cairns is one of my very best friends in politics. Without commenting on the two inappropriate words that Alun used on Dau o'r Bae, which he immediately retracted and for which he has fulsomely apologised, I just want to say that I have never heard Alun say or do anything that might indicate prejudice towards any nation in the world. I'll not be approving comments on this.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Sir John Major writes.

There's a letter in today's Sunday Telegraph from Sir John Major, responding to an article in last weeks paper written by Mathew d'Ancona which supports the locking up of suspected terrrorists for up to 42 days without charge. It reads;

Mathew d'Ancona quotes me as believing "a siege society once in place, will be difficult to dismantle". The quote is correct, but not the context. I did not refer solely to the 42 days pre-charge detention, but also to the establishment of a compulsory ID card system, a national DNA Database, and powers given to the police to permit them to bug homes and cars without the sanction of a High Court judge.
The 42 day extension (if it becomes law) may be easily reversible, but does Mr d'Ancona really believe that is true of ID cards and the DNA database. I do not. I doubt, too, that the new powers given to the police will readily be surrendered. No single part of the package exceeds the internment of the 1970s, but the collective impact - since much of it is intended to be permanent - most certainly does.

Fortunately, a more balanced judgement was to be found in your leading article "A stronger case is needed for the denial of liberty". Quite.


The Weekly Garden Post

Its the season of groups visiting our garden. This coming week, its Pontrobert Women's Institute and Welshpool Flower Club. I'm showing off some of the herbaceous plants this week. First up is another of the alliums - and this one occasionally seeds itself. I think its called something like Allium 'spectabilis' but I could be wrong here. Corrections welcome.
Next up is catmint. This is a really good plant for a dry site, where there's room for it. When Smokey was alive, we enjoyed watching him rolling around in it - verging on the indecently. We're expecting Andy and Doody to move down with my mother-in-law to live in a building we've almost finished converting, opposite our house shortly. There'll be more 'rolling in the catmint' at the Cil.
And then its the peony. We don't grow many herbaceous peonies, and only the old 'Bowl of Beauty' in any number. Looks great, but for a short season, and that can be spoilt by rain.
Finally today, there's the geraniums, which we tend to underrate a bit. But they are easy, flower for a long time, and provide a second flush if cut back. Next week it will probably be altreomarias.


I've done only three Springsteen concerts. The first was at Villa Park in 1990, which was a truly amazing 4 hours of non-stop brilliance. The second was at Sheffield in the mid 90s and was during a period when the great man was trying to do different things - and I thought not so great. And then there was last night in Cardiff when the Boss was back to his best - though he only managed a mere three hours of non stop brilliance this time. And he doesn't mess about with chat or support bands either. Its all him - non stop rock from the first minute, until he finished off with the best Irish jig (done Springsteen style) that I've ever heard in my life. Hard to believe he's 58. Bruce has never been the best of 'movers', but he's seems as good as ever to me.

It was a great mix of some well known tracks - Lonesome Road, The Rising, Long Walk Home - and some not so well known. He looked fit and was dressed in the sort of blue jeans and shirt that I used to wear. There must have been 50,000 of us in the Millennium Stadium. I'd hoped for my own favourite, 'Into the Fire', but it wasn't to be. And its no-one else's taste anyway.

It was quite amusing that Age Concern were out with the collecting buckets as we went in. The Boss attracts a more 'mature' audience these days. And he was a good half hour late starting, but everyone felt relaxed - because we were all sure he'd deliver. He began with "Hello Cardiff", and finished up with "Cardiff, Cardiff, Cardiff". I reckon every single one of us there last night can't wait for him to do Cardiff again. But what I'd really like to do would be to do a Springsteen concert in New York, or New Jersey when he's on his own turf singing "Born in the USA" - though he's probably reached the stage where he rightly looks on the whole world as his turf. The tickets were my birthday present (last Feb) and it was one of the best presents I've ever had.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Springstein calls.

Won't be blogging or commenting til tomorrow night. I'm off to Cardiff to see Bruce Springstein.

The Davis Affair - Two days on.

I've just been down to my local Conservative Association coffee morning, when everybody was asking me what on earth 'my man' was thinking about. 'My man' in this instance is David Davis, whom I supported in the last party leadership contest. I then walked down and up Broad Street talking to people that I know, all totally unconnected with the political world. No-one raised the issue with me at all, and when I raised it with them, they were all fully supportive and admiring of David's action. Read into this what you like, but it's another small example of the growing disconnection between what I'll refer to an the political activist and the rest of the population.

My answer to the question about what 'my man' has done were along the lines of Chiang Kai-shek's response when asked to reflect on the impact of the French Revolution. "Its too soon to say". What's the betting this was someone else and some commenter smarter than a wood pigeon is going to correct me. My general response remains that I wish he hadn't done it, but I'm right behind him now that he has. Charles Moore has taken a strong and, as usual, well argued view on this, which is less than complimentary about David. The major saving grace is that his replacement in the Shadow Cabinet is Dominic Grieve, a man just as committed to civil liberty as David Davis.

My disappointment is mainly that my party has lost such a very effective potential Home Secretary. But you can bet that David Davis has thought this through. Perhaps he believes that he can play a role which is personally satisfying as a backbencher. I always like to relate events to personal experience, however tangential. About eighteen months before I last my position as an Assembly Member, I resigned as a party 'spokesman' to become the only Conservative backbencher. There were several reasons, but one was that I felt I could have more impact in my role as Chair of the Environment, Planning and Countryside Committee than as a party 'spokesman'. Working on the Committee's business was as satisfying as sitting in the debating chamber when I wasn't involved in a debate when all AMs agreed on a 'motherhood and apple pie' motion was pointless. And anyone with even a passing interest in Parliamentary affairs will have noted than one of the most effective MPs is Frank Field, and he's been a backbecher for most of his career. I've also discovered since losing my seat that I can have quite a bit of influence on some political and local issues when not an elected member at all. All in all, there's a future after office, and I feel sure that there remains a major role for David Davis in British politics. But I would still have preferred him not to have resigned. I'm sure things will look different again by next week.

Pigeon brained.

Anyone who has ever grown brassicas knows just how smart pigeons are. So its no surprise to me that Pofessor Shigeru Watanabe of Keio University in Japan has discovered that they are smarter than the average three year old human. It seems that pigeons can tell the difference between live and pre-recorded images when they watch videos. Over a period of three year's research Prof. Watanabe has concluded that pigeons have self-cognitive abilities. What amazes me is that someone or some body somewhere has agreed to fund this research.

The reality is that the relative 'smartness' of a pigeon depends on what the activity is. Dr Christopher Wood has commented on this blog in the past on how inventive they are in the US. And every pigeon in the world has an inbuilt satnav that puts all humans to shame. I was totally 'lost' in Newport last week. Anyway what occurred to me was the pointlessness of it all. Not so much the research, but the ability to differentiate between live and pre-recorded images if you can't turn the video on.

The 'smartness' of birds featured elsewhere in today's Telegragh. Its reported that in Perranporth, Cornwall, a family of swans have learned to use a zebra crossing when strolling around the busy High Street - and that's smarter than your average three year old as well.

Friday, June 13, 2008

I love the Irish

Next month, our No 3 son is marrying an Irish Catholic girl from Macroom, named Adrienne. Can't wait. I wish it was this weekend. I've never felt so enthused about welcoming a citizen of the glorious Emerald Isle into our family. A big No from the Irish, and a big Yes from me. So went out for supper tonight and celebrated with a pint of Guinness. Actually, Adrienne was very welcome before her countrymen delivered the most wonderful boost for democracy today, when Ireland rejected the 'EU Constitutional Treaty' otherwise known as the Lisbon Treaty.

But they still don't get it. They still don't realise that its not whats in these treaties that really matters. Its that the EU is so out of touch, and undemocratic that its lost trust. And the commission is so consumed by itself, and so arrogant in its certainty that its sphere of influence must become ever greater. Democracy depends on engaging with the people, and the Commission is so bl**** certain of its rightness that the people don't count anymore. Well, today the people did count - and those who counted their votes found that they do not like it.

Today's No vote was a truly astonishing result. Ireland was probably the 27th most unlikely country to say No. All the mainstream parties and all the media were reassuring and campaigning for a Yes vote. To begin with, a Yes vote looked a foregone conclusion. But the more the people thought about it the more they disliked the way that they were being bullied. I don't suppose that tonight's vote will make much difference. The EU will just implement most of the clauses in the Lisbon Treaty anyway. And if it carries on, the organisation which was set up to foster trade and understanding amongst the peoples of Europe in the 1950s will become increasingly held in contempt. That pint of Guinness still tastes good.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Dragon's Eye

I'd done a lot of filming for tonight's edition of Dragon's Eye about a private sector provider of colonoscopy services for suspected bowel cancer sufferers and others - but Lord Elis Thomas and David Davis's resignation pushed the story off the screen. I felt deeply partisan watching the coverage of the Davis resignation, finding Wayne David's contribution absolutely appalling - Westminster politics at its worst. At least he put it on the screen for us all to see. As always Jonathon Evans was professional and logical. He's an old friend of the ex-Shadow Home Secretary, and knows just how concerned about the growth of the 'police state' in Britain he is. It really was shocking yesterday to read about a British Government offering consessions for votes to help Gordon Brown climb out of a hole. I really do feel alarmed by what seems a total disregard for civil liberties by the Labour Party. Just as the approach of the BBC's Nick Robinson (and others) is deeply depressing. The idea that a politician could put his career on the line for a genuinely held personal belief doesn't seem to register on his radar.

Now I've no idea what the outcome of David's decision will be, but he's contesting an election on a point of principle that the Telegraph tells us that 69% of people disagree with him. Labour have clearly decided that the line to spin is that this is a 'stunt'. A hugely successful politician, who has consistently been one of the Conservatives most successful performers, potentially sacrifices his career - and they call it a 'stunt'. It looks unpleasant, and I suspect that it will reinforce the growing perception of Labour as the 'Nasty Party'. Its what Labour deserves.

French Health Care

The BBC website is reporting that David Cameron was interrupted during his speech today by a man extolling the virtues of the French health service. Coincidentally, I was talking to a Montgomeryshire friend who has just had direct personal experience of it. He and his wife own a house in France, and were heading south on a French train when he began suffering chest pains. It was about 9.00 in the morning. Luckily, there was a doctor on the train, who thought it might be a heart attack. This is what my friend told me happened next.

When the train pulled into the next station, there was an ambulance waiting, which whisked him off to hospital. As soon as he arrived he underwent an investigative angiogram, which confirmed that he was suffering a heart attack. The surgeon told him he would need a heart stent fitted to unblock one of his arteries. Now, we know a bit about these stents in Wales, because a few of our politicians have had them implanted (if that's the right word) over the last year or so. Anyway, the surgeon just implanted it there and then. My friend came round in the recovery room at about mid-day, approximately three hours after his first chest pains. Today, he seemed fully recovered to me. I just wondered whether such a thing was possible within the British NHS.


It takes a lot to flabber my gast, but David Davis, the Shadow Home Secretary has just done it. I was driving home, and switched on the car radio, and there he was, making a passionate speech about the erosion of civil liberties. I was really enjoying hearing a reminder of why I've so long been an admirer and supporter of this man - when he suddenly announced that he was resigning as an MP, to fight an election on the issue of Britain being turned into a Police State. I was staggered.

Because of the way I've arranged my life, it's been difficult for me to become involved in by-election campaigns. But I will be with David as he fights a cause which I too believe in with a passion. The Telegraph may well report that 69% of the population agree with yesterday's vote to extend the period when an innocent person (until proven guilty) can be locked up - and to that can be added the power of the Sun. But David Davis was not prepared to stand by and watch the liberty which underpins our way of life being destroyed - doing the terrorists work for them. I've no idea how this decision will play out or be treated by the commentators, but I think it is a stunningly brave and principled decision.

Gwleidydd 'lliwgar'.

Finished off my day in Cardiff today by 'guesting' on CF99, the Welsh Language politics programme on S4/C. Fellow guest was Nick Bennett, who used to be a prominent Lib Dem but has found a much more useful role in society. Nick is a living demonstration that its possible to succeed, no matter how misguided a path one might have started out on. Presenters of CF99 are Wales' answer to Bill Oddie and Kate Humble - the Welsh political 'mastermind', Vaughan Roderick and the fragrant Bethan Rhys Roberts. And please don't tell me that's sexist. Its so late that my judgement could be going.

Only one issue tonight. His Lordship. And for once, try as I might, I cannot fathom what he's playing at. But I do know that I think he was wrong. This is what's happened. A Plaid Cymru Assembly Member, Mohammed Asghar, has invited all his fellow AMs to a reception, to which he has also invited the Israeli Ambassador. Now this is quite interesting in itself - the only Muslim elected to the Assembly inviting the Israeli Ambassador to an Assembly do. Interesting, but not obviously a problem - until his Lordship, the Assembly Presiding Officer, Lord Dafydd Elis Thomas stuck his oar in. He responded to the invitation by declining, because he so disapproves of the way that the Israelis are treating the Palestinians. If that's his opinion, fair enough, I suppose. But then he went on to hope that no other Assembly Member would accept Mohammed's invitation either. And to cap it all, he then sent a copy of his refusal by email to every other AM. In my understated opinion, this was somewhat 'incendiary'.

Dafydd El might say that it was a private email to AMs. All 60 of them. Pull the other one M'lud. Anyway it inevitably leaked out. Mohammed is standing his ground. He's been in hotter places than this. Mohammed it was who was almost blown up during an unsuccessful attempt on the life of Benazir Bhutto last year - before the successful attempt. Alun Ffred Jones, another Plaid Cymru AM went on the record today to completely disagree with Dafydd El. There wasn't any attempt to try to finesse things. Labour AM and wannabe FM, Leighton Andrews is pouring fuel on the flames. If this happened in any other party, we'd be talking about internal turmoil - but not Plaid Cymru. This is par for the course. At least no-one's resigned. Now what did I think of this. Well, if I'd received such an invitation, I might have accepted if I didn't have a previous engagement. Had I received Dafydd El's email as well, I would have cancelled any other engagement to make sure I could attend, hopefully the cancelled meeting being one with the Presiding Officer himself.

Bethan asked me and Nick if we thought this made Dafydd El 'not fit for purpose' - not suitable to be the Assembly's Presiding Officer. We both declared our support and admiration for the Machiavellian Meirionyddion. You see, what people outside of Wales don't realise is that Lord Dafydd El is unique, in that he can say almost anything and get away with it. The only danger is if the story goes world wide. I'm told its gone international - in France anyway. And tomorrow's Sun or Mail is running the story under the heading 'Lord Porkbarrel' in reference to the 8.3% pay increase. Could be a problem if it goes out on Al Jezzira though. Anyway, I'm told that the only reason he was crousty about it was because he had invited another prestigious visitor to visit the Assembly on the same day. Well that's understandable then. The Welsh word for 'colourful' is 'lliwgar'.

A Birthday Party

Two years ago today, the Environment, Planning and Countryside Committee of the National Assembly for Wales took evidence from various bodies concerned about the continuation of the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research at Aberystwyth, which was thought to be under some threat. I was the Committee Chair at the time. So Assembly Minister, Elin Jones, who was a Committee Member, and a speaker at tonight's event, reminded us that tonight was a sort of 'birthday party'. Even our Committee Clerk, Kathryn Jenkins was there. Our conclusion two years ago was that we wanted IGER to merge with Aberystwyth University rather than horizontally with other research stations outside of Wales. We felt that this would be the most likely way to ensure that Wales retained this outstanding research base in the long term.

Reason I mention all this, is that tonight's event in the National Assembly was a celebration of the establishment of the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS), a successor to IGER. Its roughly what the EPC Committee envisaged two years ago - a major new institute, within the University. 300 staff. Largest group of specialist scientists working in this field in the UK. Start up investment of over £50 million. Income of £20 million a year. Close links with the School of Natural Sciences at Bangor. Amongst the speakers were Aberystwyth Vice-Chancellor Noel Lloyd, IGER'S old director, Chris Pollock, and IBERS' Director Designate, Wayne Powell. The event reeked of potential and promise. All quite satisfying. Very pleased I went.

AM/PM again.

A very long day. 1.30am and just had a shower after returning from a mediafest in Cardiff. Knackered, but a satisfying day. Started off with AM/PM, the BBC's 90 minutes from the National Assembly. The format is based on two guests in the studio discussing today's newspapers and other topical stories. My 'regular' partner, Siobhan McClelland (well, the last twice anyway) had gone to Cambodia for a month, so it was ex Labour Minister, Christine Gwyther today.

AM/PM also takes in Prime Minister's Questions. I described today's PMQs as a high score draw. I went so far as to say that I judged it was the best PMQs I've watched. Both David Cameron and Gordon Brown were on top of their game. The exchange flowed from the sombre beginning of tribute to the three young paratroopers who were killed in Afghanistan recently, and moved naturally onto the '42 days argument'. It was the House of Commons at its best. Both Chris and I were entranced by the power of the cut and thrust between the two gladiators.

And then Phil Parry asked me what I thought of Nick Clegg's performance. I just asked "Was he there". To be fair, he had an impossible job to make any impact after such an impressive main bout. Today's Clegg/Brown exchange was a bit like a third place play off. Even the far more able Vince Cable would have struggled.

Most of our other discussion was on the 'detention of suspected terrorists without charge' issue, particularly today's Telegraph story that almost 70 % of the public back the Government. I said that I wasn't at all surprised. Chris was supportive of the extension of the period to 42 days, while I was not. There was a theme of discussion about civil liberties and human rights running through today's programme. There are strong thread of libertarianism, and commitment to security running through the Conservative Party, and sometimes they come into conflict. I'm usually of the 'libertarian' tendency when these conflicts occur.

As soon as the 1.00 bell rang, I was surrounded by the Dragon's Eye team - enough to put the wind up any aspiring politician. But all that had happened was that Toby Mason, that snapper upper of newsy tittle tattle had heard me say where I was going next, a visit to a private sector health care provider, which I'll blog on tomorrow. I spent an hour or so with Adrian Masters, engrossed by what I was witnessing - but I'd best wait until after Dragon's Eye goes out tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

BNP canvassing in Montgomeryshire.

There may not be an election in the offing (unless Gordon Brown gives up the ghost), but the British National Party are out canvassing in Montgomeryshire. There's just been a leaflet drop in Guilsfield asking for donations by credit card to a 0870 number or a request for membership information from an address in Worcester. The top headline of the leaflet is 'Crime and Antisocial Behaviour Are Out Of Control' and postulates that the answer is to put more police back on the street, instead of sitting behind desks learning how to be politically correct.

The second issue raised is the party's intention to bring in a Tony Martin Law. I think this means that its OK to kill any person who enters your home with criminal intention. The BNP's opinion is that once a criminal enters someone else's home, they sacrifice any rights that they may have.

The third promise by the BNP wants to bring back the death penalty for child killers and pass a law which allow parents to know if any registered sex offenders live in their area because paedophiles have no rights. The BNP certainly knows how to press populist buttons. I have much sympathy with the 'Police paperwork' issue, but I don't agree with the other two - despite the initial knee jerk superficial attraction.

There was no indication whatsoever of racial prejudice. The BNP has learned to use verbal make-up to hide its ugliness. I raise all this to highlight the seriousness of the threat that the BNP represents.

Post Office Closure Update

Unfortunately, its a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul. Today's announcement from Post Office Ltd that two of the thirteen Post Offices in Central Wales proposed for closure, are to be reprieved, means that two others have to close instead. Tremont Road in Llandrindod Wells, and Pendre in Brecon are saved - while Penyparc in Ceredigion is now for the chop. Which leaves one more. I'm told that letters have gone out to several Sub Post Offices informing them that because these two Post Offices have been reprieved, they are back on the hit list. (Have to admit this is hearsay though.) Most worryingly, I'm told that there are some sub postmasters hoping they will be selected for closure. Doesn't say much for morale.

We were warned. Throughout the consultation period, Post Office Ltd has insisted that 13 Sub Post Offices in Central Wales must close. The rationale is that the Government (its 100% shareholder) has already resolved that 2500 should close, and pro rata, that means 13 in Central Wales. The last 6 weeks have not been about the total number, but to decide which Post Offices will be chosen to make up the already decided number. Brutal or what.

And the next big battle is starting already. I was out introducing myself to people in Llanwddyn earlier tonight, alongside new local councillor, Simon Baynes. Several people showed me a card which had been circulated in the area on behalf of sub postmasters for completion and onward posting to local Members of Parliament. The issue is the future of the Post Office card account. The Government will shortly be choosing a successor to manage this card account, and if the Post Office Ltd is not chosen, at least another 2,500 sub Post Offices will close - probably without any compensation for the sub postmasters. It looks as if we ain't seen nothing yet.

A most unusual dinner.

Imagine if someone telephoned you, out of the blue, and asked you to choose four people, dead or alive, fictional even, that you would like to invite to join you for dinner. Who would you choose? Actually, I'd prefer to have dinner with family and friends, but I don't think that was what Radio Cymru had in mind. This was the format for the 30 minutes I did yesterday, in discussion with Hywel a Nia. So when I had the call, a fair bit of head scratching was needed.

Now where do I start. First thing was to decide what I wanted to talk about. Well, yesterday saw confirmation of the 100th death of one of our paratroopers in Afghanistan. I was debating (with myself) whether we should be there at all, when the phone rang. So the issue that immediately came to mind was what justification is needed to turn to violence to achieve political objectives. Who has made major decisions about resorting to violence - or not - in the twentieth century. That was the basis on which I chose my guests.

First up was David Lloyd George, a man generally thought to have pacifist leanings, who became a great wartime leader. And I would like to ask him just how on earth a radical Welsh Liberal, committed to taking shedloads of money from the landed gentry to pay for social benefits managed to become the de facto leader of the Tories for 6 years. No wonder he was nicknamed 'Wizard'.

Second up was Aung San Suu Kyi, the incredibly brave leader of the opposition to the Generals in Burma - a woman of such beauty and poise, that I would have to insist on sitting between her and Lloyd George for her protection from his attentions - if Ffion Hague's new book is anything to go by. I could have invited Mahahatma Gandhi, whom she is often compared with, but I needed to invite at least one woman, and she is very much in the news at present.

Third up was Churchill, partly because he is reputed to be the only politician who enjoyed a good and trusting relationship with Lloyd George. Churchill was a great war hero, who I think of as being the first exponent of 'total war'. But we must not forget that he joined the Liberals to begin with when his mate, Lloyd George hadn't donned his post pacifist clothes - so even this is not straight forward. I might have been better inviting Hitler, but that would have been too controversial.

And finally Saunders Lewis. Odd choice you might think. And I admit that I've not read much about Lewis. But I think of him as the main instigator behind the decision to invoke violence to win support for Welsh identity and the Welsh Language, an issue of consuming interest to me. Not sure how he would have got along with my other guests and I wouldn't have let him anywhere near the flambe pan. I would like to discuss with him whether he thinks that violence, and the threat thereof was a help or a hindrance to his basic objectives. Bearing in mind how little actual violence there was (as opposed to law breaking), it had a disproportionate impact on the perception of the Welsh as being a nation ready to use violence. I really do not know whether it was a help or a hindrance as far as Welsh identity is concerned..

I wonder whether anyone else who reads my blog would like to have joined this fivesome if there had been an extra chair - or which four guests they would have chosen and why if they had been a guest of Hywel and Nia.

Post Office Closures in Mid Wales.

Post Office Wales has published its decisions about the future of Sub Post Offices in Montgomeryshire. I'm really pleased that a 'partner' arrangement has been agreed in my local village of Berriew. We would have preferred to retain our free standing Post Office, but this is the next best option. Same goes for the similar arrangement proposed at Carno.

I'm also pleased that Postwatch are digging their heels in about Castle Caereinion and Llanbrynmair. These two proposed closures have been 'escalated', which means the decision is going to have be taken at a more senior level within Post Office Ltd. The fight goes on. Well done Postwatch.

But disappointed about Garth Owen. I thought there was a good case for saving it. Still some uncertainty about Abermule PO. It looks as if the decision to close the Abermule Post Office has been confirmed, despite our best efforts to save it - but there is no decision yet about what sort of 'outreach' facility is going to replace it. I really thought the local community had put forward a winning case. I will be fighting to ensure that we don't lose any sort of facility at this busy and growing village.

Short of time at present, so not much opinion in this blog, but will return to this later.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Abermule Post Office Spared.

This was the dramatic Front Page headline in this weekend's Montgomeryshire County Times. Must admit that I was a bit taken aback by this. I had no idea that any decision had yet been made about the closure programme in Central Wales. And I'm trying to keep my ear close to the ground on this issue. I'd like to know where this little tit-bit of information came from.

I'll give Edna a ring in the morning. We've already had a chat about the Postwatch Wales recommendations to Post Office Ltd. We knew that Eifion Pritchard and his team at Capital Tower has asked that nine if the proposed closures should be reconsidered. Included in the nine are Garth Owen Post Office at Newtown (Cllr Bob Mills must have done a good campaigning job), and Abermule Post Office. I hope that Post Office Ltd listen.

Must say the case for saving from closure is weakened by the number being asked for. It was made quite explicit in the consultation meetings that 2,500 had to close across the country and my impression was that we'd be lucky to save two, rather than nine. Still, I'm with Postwatch all the way on this. I'm going to try to find out where the advance notice that Abermule is to be spared from closure came from though.

Slumming it.

Very depressed after watching today's Politics Show. There was this Urban Design Professor named Punter telling us that the apartment blocks in Cardiff Bay are going to be the 'slums of the future'. I was momentarily cheered when the local Assembly Member appeared. Surely she was going to put Punter right. But No. All she did was make it worse. The bay has a "Ghost town feel" according to Lorraine. And to really drive the nail in, it was our block at Century Wharf that was featured on the film. That should knock another £20,000 off the price. thank you Lorraine. One thing that did catch my sensitive ear though. I could have sworn I heard Lorraine talking about landlords being tempted to let these empty flats to the wrong sort of people. Wonder what she could have meant - and her a socialist too. Surely not that we don't want any riff-raff in the Bay.

We bought our flat in Cardiff Bay when I was an Assembly Member - at the top of the market. Mind you we sold our old flat at the top of the market as well, so shouldn't complain too much. I suppose I should have sold it earlier, but we like it, and decided to keep it on for a while as a sort of city bolthole. (But its available for Eisteddfod week if anyone wants to pay a good rent for it.) Its a good job I think Professor Punter and Lorraine are talking total rot. I reckon that the builders will be back in action in the Bay in two or three years time. You'll have to judge for yourselves whether that me trying to talk the price up.

A passing thought though. If I'd made a bucketful of profit on the flat, the interest on which was partly met by the taxpayer when I was an AM, there would have been all these 'outraged' people talking about snouts and troughs and paying the money back. I wonder what they'd think of the idea of the taxpayer covering the loss! And No, I'm not making a serious suggestion.

The Hosta Walk

Its Hostas this week. I've been tidying up the Hosta Walk this afternoon. It doubles as the Magnolia Walk earlier in the year. I'm preparing for the visit by Llanfair Caereinion Flower Club on Thursday. Its the first garden visit of the year. Welshpool Flower Club are coming a few days later. I like to act as the guide.

We grow about 30 different varieties of Hosta. They vary in size, leaf shape, leaf colour, and flower colour. They really are the easiest of plants to grow, and give good value for the best part of six months. And they are easy to propagate - by simple division. So you only need to buy one.

I've selected five from the Hosta Walk which look particularly good at the moment. I've left my spade in the ground by some of them to give you an idea of size. I'm not sure of the varieties - except that the biggest leaves belong to 'Sum and Substance'.

Many growers have trouble with slugs. For some reason we don't. They thrive in any reasonable soil, but do prefer it damp, and stand up with greater pride if they are not in full sun. Hostas are just about the best value plant in the garden. Too often, I see them stuck in a dark corner, where nothing else will grow, looking sad and unloved. I hope Llanfair Flower Club like them.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Thank You Viola.

My previous post referred to the splendid Chair of Powys County Council. And I'm not just being sycophantic because she invited me, a mere commoner to join her in the posh seats today. It was the regal way in which she inspected the Parade. It was right up there with royals. I've done a bit of the same sort of thing at sporting occasions and school prize-givings - but nothing like this. Perhaps my most noteworthy presentation was to Michael Owen, the England footballer, when his Liverpool under 12s team won their age group at the Ian Rush Soccer Tournament. Anyway, its only right that that I should record Viola's triumph on my blog.

The Royal Welsh

Special Day in Welshpool today. The Freedom of the County of Powys was presented to The Royal Welsh in a very grand ceremony. I was invited to attend as a guest of the Chair of Powys County Council, Viola Evans, who inspected the Parade. The reason That the Freedom had not been previously presented was that The Royal Welsh have only been in existence since St David's Day, 2006. It was formed following the amalgamation of The Royal Regiment of Wales and The Royal Welsh Fusiliers. The streets were packed. Welshpool turned out in force to honour our boys (and girls). When the Parade proceeded through Broad Street, and the crowds began applauding, I felt the hair on the back of my neck respond. I felt the same way when the hunt was applauded as it charged up the same street last Boxing Day.
First The Royal Welsh, then The Powys Battalion Army Cadet Force, and then The Comrades and Regimental Associations. The Freedom was received with drums beating, colours flying and bayonets fixed. After the ceremony, the Parade marched off to exercise its newly granted rights. I do love ceremony. And it was great to be included in the posh seats, with a good view of proceedings.

The day had its quota of high spots. First time I've heard a Parade Commander issue a command at full throttle to "Face left", only to quickly correct himself to "Face right". Big grins all round. And I'm left with this image of the Town Mayor, Councillor Ann Holloway, recoiling when a terrier attacked the fur trim of her mayoral robes. If ever the Town Council dispenses with the Mayor's formal dress, it could always be recycled as the hare in local terrier racing competitions.

Friday, June 06, 2008

We should not let them die.

This is a Bowel Cancer post - so look away now if talk of bottoms disturbs you. Being doing multiple interviews today, following the admission by the National Assembly Health Minister that her Government's Bowel Cancer screening programme is not going to be delivered as advertised. Very disappointing for those of us who care about this issue. Wales is lagging behind both England and Scotland.

The screening programme will begin later on this year. It will involve sending out testing kits to everyone between 60-69. In two years time the programme will extend to those aged 70-74. The Assembly Government is making much of the fact that the programme is to be extended to everyone 50-59 in 2015 - something that is not proposed at all in England. Personally, I don't attach much significance to any Government promissory note which falls due in seven years time. The reality is that the timetable for introducing screening in Wales is way behind England and Scotland.

Reason I'm a campaigner is that I was a man in my 50s when I went down with Bowel Cancer in 2002. Actually it was Colorectal Cancer, which includes tumours of the bowel and the rectum. These days I usually say that I suffered from Bowel Cancer to avoid confusion. My tumour was so low down in my rectum that it could not be rejoined, so I underwent a lower bowel resection, which involved removal of my rectum, anus and associated bits and pieces, and the construction of a colostomy. But good news was that its position meant that I'd become aware of the tumour's existence at a comparatively early stage. If it had been higher up, I may have kept the bits that I lost, but I might not have known about the problem until the cancer had spread to other organs.

Which brings us to the screening programme. Its pretty basic stuff - and not very expensive. All that happens is that a card is delivered (every two years) which requires faeces to be spread on it. Tumours leak blood, and the card identifies traces before it becomes obvious to the human eye. Its the next steps for which there is insufficient capacity in the Wales NHS. Every 1000 tests throw up 2 tumours, which often require a colonoscopy (a camera around the bowel). This is not like using a set of draining rods. It requires skill and training. We don't want some cowboy poking holes in the colon - that kills people. And the there's the follow up surgery. We need oncologist capacity to deliver all the extra operations needed. So whats going to happen is that all these tumours are going to left undisturbed, to develop from the stage where full recovery is likely to a stage where complex, debilitating treatment, and often death is the prognosis. Sounds nasty when put like that. Now you know why I'm disappointed.

There are hundreds of people in Wales working, playing, laughing, loving and even blogging who have tumours busily growing in their bowels, without anyone knowing. If they were to be treated now, the chances of full recovery would be good. But because we are not even going to try to find these evil little aliens, they will break out of the bowel wall and spread to the liver and other places. Eventually, they will show themselves, but only when they have much more of a grip. 16,000 people die of Bowel Cancer in the UK every year. The official policy of turning a blind eye has gone on for long enough. Yes, talk of bottoms is embarrassing, but so many deaths is a very high price to pay for it..

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Edna's back

Edna Mopbucket's been on. I thought she'd deserted me. We had a row over the abortion issue, where she's always banging on about it being a woman's choice, and she slammed the phone down when I said I thought the legal time limit for an abortion should be brought down to 20 weeks. Anyway she's been cleaning at Powys Council's 'Kremlin' in Llandrindod Wells today, and has been listening in at a few keyholes in the education department. And I'm the only one willing to listen to her prattling on.

Edna's got relations in Howey, and was very upset because the discussion was about the Assembly Minister's confirmation that Howey Primary School is finally to close. And there was a lot of talk about how supportive the Minister is about the School Modernisation Programme, which Edna always refers to as the School 'Closure' Programme. So its a green light for closing our small schools. Which makes it all the more interesting that the Lib Dems in Brecon and Radnorshire have been in begging the Council to suspend this closure programme. Hmmmmm. A few weeks ago they were in favour of it - and now they want it deferred for two years (til after the General Election). Could there be a bit of panic creeping in about the security of Roger Williams' position as an MP.

Problem for the Lib Dems is that they are desperate to act as if they are in partnership with the biggest 'Independent' group, the Powys Independent Alliance - despite the bizarre all group 'Board' system that currently runs the place. Together these two groups form a majority on the Council, and have just done a deal which ensured that a Lib Dem was elected the Council Board's Vice Chairman, while the Powys Independent Alliance provides the Chairman. So the Chair, Michael Jones and the Vice Chair, Les Davies both come from Brecon and Radnorshire. Montgomeryshire nowhere in sight. I'm sure its not true, but Edna reckons the Lib Dems were still laughing - until they realised that the more they are seen to be in charge, the more they will have to shoulder the blame for school closures. Which puts poor old Roger in the 'at serious risk' category. No idea whether this is true, but its great to have Edna back with this sort of gossip.

Sometimes an outsider sees it more clearly.

I've just received another comment on an old post which I think deserves to be read. Its from an anonymous commenter on a post entitled 'Britishness'. It reads;

"I've been an American Welshman my entire life - an American first and a Welshman always. What's going on over there. We fought the South and got over it. Define and divide the rights so that you know what is right by Welsh law, and what is right by British law and you will have it solved."

Well I don't think its as easy to solve as that, but its about as near to the principle which drives my opinion as anything I've read. Its just nice to have a response which is looking at the constitutional stability angle for a change.

Thanks Karen.

I've never met Rhondda Cynon Taff Lib Dem Councillor, Karen Roberts. But this blog wants to acknowledge her contribution to the Welsh blogosphere. Her approach to council debate has stimulated more comments than I've received for a while - and on a totally unrelated post about Stephen Kearney, the Lib Dem candidate in Henley. When I played rugby, informing one's opposite number that one intended to 'rip your f****** nuts off", or something similar was 'not unusual' as Tom might say. But I'd not previously heard of this rather unladylike promise of direct action being threatened in the council chambers of Wales before - though I've seen televised fights taking place in other debating chambers, as diverse as Italy and Japan. And I do recall Rhodri Morgan once describing a speech by Peter Rogers as "Bollocks" in the National Assembly for Wales. The only reason we knew that Rhodri had done this was that Peter roared out (as only he could) that "its not bollocks, First Minister". I swear this is true.

I don't think there is as much commenting on Welsh blogs as there used to be. Perhaps its moving on to new bloggers and leaving me behind. I suppose it could be that I've been outside the crucible of political action in Cardiff Bay for too long - and there's less interest in Westminster issues, which are inevitable becoming a greater part of my life, and this blog. If I didn't approve anonymous comments (and Christopher), there would be very little comment at all. And this is a pity - because one of the reasons why I publish opinionated posts is to encourage response. What is odd is that visitor numbers have generally gone up, while comments have fallen off.

Anyway, thanks Karen. No more blogging til tonight. I've just remembered that I need to put up the protection sheets over our cob nut trees, to prevent the b***** squirrels ripping the nuts off.