Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Tough Choices Ahead.

Been reading about George Osborne's ideas to limit Council Tax increases in England. Put simply, he's saying that any English Council which limits its proposed Council Tax increase to 2.5% would receive a grant payment from the Treasury which would reduce the increase to nil. Several consequences occur to me, beyond the assumed pleasure this will bring to Council Taxpayers and that it would cost a fair sum of money.

Firstly, it will put enormous pressure on councils to limit increases to 2.5%. Its not compulsory, but all I can say is that if I was a councillor in England, I would not vote for any other figure. Secondly, limiting spending to this extent will mean some seriously difficult decision making for councillors - and why not. For too long, the taxpayer has been hammered beyond reasonableness.

But what does this mean for Montgomeryshire. Well, nothing directly. But it seems to me that about 5% of any additional spending by the Treasury (which would be nil if it was derived through savings in other devolved subject areas) would be added to the annual block grant which passes to the National Assembly for Wales. But there would be no requirement that any increase would be spent to limit Council Tax increases. It could be spent on another of these 'freebies' that have been a feature of Assembly spending over recent years.

I daresay I'll be accused of adopting a Westminster focus (seems to happen quite often at the moment) but I reckon that this is a shrewd and innovative idea. For many years, my opinion has been that Councils should live within the discipline of 'no more than inflation' increases - except where additional financial burdens are imposed on Councils by national Government of course. Its not going to be liked by some councillors though, and I'll be interested to read about reactions when Council Finance Officers have worked out the figures.

My link with Birmingham.

Main reason that I try to avoid party conferences is that I don't enjoy them. I never have. When the Conservative Party was lagging behind in the polls, I felt a responsibility to turn up. So I made the sacrifice. But now that more people want to attend our annual do than watch Man U play Chelsea, and there would be dozens of potential 'interviewees' for every media 'op', I decided that I wouldn't be missed. So I've been engaged in a few days research into Welsh-Spanish cultural relations, and a meeting of the Welsh Advisory Board of EuropeanCare Cymru (which I chair) in Swansea. Of which more later.

But I wish I'd been in Birmingham yesterday to hear Terry Pratchett speak. Mr Pratchett is the 60 years old, politically unaligned, best selling author who is suffering from Alzheimer's Disease. Since he joined the 700,000 or so people who have been diagnosed with this illness last year, he has done wonderful work raising the profile of Alzheimer's, as well as donating a big chunk of his personal wealth to research. I would have liked to have been there to applaud his courage and generosity. If I'd known he was going to be there, before I committed to my Board Meeting, I would have 'bitten the bullet' and gone to the Conference instead.

And now a word of thanks to Lord Mayor of Swansea, Coucillor Gareth Sullivan, and to Mrs Gwenda Thomas A.M.. EuropeanCare sponsors a 'not for profit' body named RESEC - or Research into Specialist Elderly Care. We are putting effort and resource into doing what Terry Pratchett was doing in Birmingham today. Last night, the Lord Mayor hosted a reception for RESEC in the Mansion House, and Mrs Gwenda Thomas, Deputy Minister who is responsible for this area of policy within the Assembly Government agreed to attend and speak. Although I didn't make it in time from Liverpool Airport to here her speak, I did make it in time to meet and thank her. She is a star.

Among the issues at today's Board Meeting were the way that EuropeanCare Cymru might introduce an 'advocacy' scheme for vulnerable people, and the way our recently introduced 'lay visitors scheme' is working. Really good and constructive meeting, exactly the sort of meeting which I would expect Terry Pratchett to approve of.

The reason why.

Over the last two days I, along with many others have been wondering why the people of the United States have seemed more inclined to punish Wall Street financiers than save their own pensions. Well this little synopsis of the collapse of Leaman Brothers reported on page 7 of today's Telegraph provides some inkling of the answer.

Bank goes bust. Shareholders get wiped out. Creditors stand to lose more than $100,000,000,000. Bankruptcy causes further crisis of confidence in entire banking system, requiring $700,000,000,000 bail-out funded by taxpayers. Employees get $3,500,000,000 bonuses

Only change I've made in to write in all the noughts - because the word 'billion' has become so devalued over recent days. And I wasn't sure whether 'bail-out' is spelt correctly.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Back home - sort of.

Only just recovered from the shock. I've just typed in 'bloigger.com' in error, and up came Adult Friend Finder - a site featuring 24 photographs of very well blessed young ladies in provocative pose. I was quite taken aback. The shock was all the greater because I'm so tired, having left El Rompido Golf at 6.00 this morning for Faro, then Liverpool, and finally Swansea for a reception and dinner tonight. Managed, after a bit of difficulty to get this flashy new laptop operating in the Ramada Hotel. Its No 1 son, Edward's computer. I hope he doesn't think I've been visiting dodgy sites on purpose.

Really enjoyed my week off. Played 18 holes every day. The North Course at El Rompido Golf is a great test. Its such a good course that the management won't allow buggies on it after rain. And it rained on the last two days. The par 5s average 550 yards. And managed to read a fair bit as well - a really nice World War 2 love story by H E Bates about an English pilot from Worcester being shot down over France, and falling in love with a French girl, and they both escape over the border into Spain. OK, you can stop sneering. I have a romantic side, and I really enjoyed it. And a pacey thriller by Val McDermid called Beneath the Bleeding. Tonight, it will have to be the papers for tomorrow's meeting of European Care Cymru in the Ramada. Welcome home. Will be able to catch up on what's been happening in the world tomorrow - and at Birmingham

Speaking of Spain, I should mention cycling, which is a big big sport there. I imagine that the continuing achievements of the amazing Nicole Cooke are receiving more coverage and plaudits in Spain than here in the UK. Following on from her brilliant gold medal at Beijing, she has just won the World Championship road race, outlasting the Dutch girl, Vos to snatch victory after 3 hours in the saddle. She is simply brilliant. Possibly the biggest loss of 'perk' resulting from loss of my position as an Assembly Member last year is that I wasn't invited to meet this wonderful ambassador for Wales when the Olympic winners were invited to the Assembly.

I've missed updating the blog over the last few days, and there are so many issues I'd like to post on. I

Friday, September 26, 2008

Spanish Report - No 3. A ray of 'sunshine'.

After four days hacking my way around the South course at El Rompido Golf, we're intent on tackling the less forgiving North Course this afternoon. In order to acquire the right degree of relaxation and mansuetude, I've bought yesterday's Telegraph, in search of something to blog about.

Much interested in the article about the UK Government's decision to sell our nuclear generation capacity to the French private sector. Oh, the irony of it. I wonder what assurances have been given about delivering speedy planning approvals. The dependence on French capitalists to fill our 'energy gap' is a direct consequence of the failure of the UK Government to face up to difficult decisions until its too late.

In another article we read of the same sort of failure in respect of how we are going to deal with waste. Some years ago, I came to the decision that there needed to be huge investment in incineration. A few years ago I used my annual 'overseas trip' allowance when I was an Assembly Member to go to Vienna, where all waste is incinerated - within the city. No-one bats an eyelid. But as with nuclear, the nettle will not be grasped until panic sets in. Perhaps it will be foreign capitalists that will come to our rescue again. Its all a bit like credit cards. If you spend the money, use the energy, create the waste, the bill will eventually have to be paid.

Anyway, the article that caught my eye most was in the business section - Laura Ashley reporting its half year profits - £4.5 million. This may not sound much, but its pretty damn good for LA. The shares increased by 24% to 18p. I remember when the shares where heading for 300p, and the company was taking over the world. Laura Ashley, will forever be associated with the little village of Carno, in the heart of Montgomeryshire, where the fairy story began. It was a very sad for the village when the factory was closed. Lying there, empty and desolated, it remains a constant reminder of good times gone. But LA is still hugely important to Montgomeryshire, with its huge Texplan opereation and mail order business located in Newtown. The sun is shining here in Spain. The financial gloom is something I observe in a detached sort of way on the television. Within this gloom its nice to read about a ray of business sunshine beaming down on Montgomeryshire.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

When does embranglement become unacceptable?

I just think that this should appear on my blog. Its amusing, as well as informative. Its also interesting that serving as Housing Spokesman for England leads to an impossible level of embranglement with a 'Presidential' campaign, while representing Montgomeryshire and appearing on multiple media celebrity programmes is not embranglement too far.

Spanish report 2 - Its not going to happen John.

Another 18 holes on the South Course today. Its laid out around a nature reserve, which claims many a wayward ball, including three of mine. We watched a flock of 30 Little Egrets today, just pottering about on the course - something I've not seen before. Spent all morning reading an H E Bates book by the side of the pool. Luckily, the Spanish seem to disappear from view about seven, and there's no point going out to eat until half past nine - so I have time to check up on the various blogs that I like to read. Valleys Mam has written a good post on Ruth Kelly, who resigned this morning because she could no longer work for Gordon Brown, or was it to spend more time with her family.

I've just visited the Institute of Welsh Affairs site. I've always thought that John Osmond has combined his twin roles as Director of the Institute of Welsh Affairs and Plaid Cymru activist rather well. But I think his green petticoat is showing with this post. The only political party I've heard argue for a referendum on law making powers for the National Assembly to be held on the same day as the election to that Assembly is Plaid Cymru. Its not going to happen. Move on John. Spend a bit more time talking to politicians from other parties.

And been reading all this stuff about Gordon Brown making a good speech in Manchester. What on earth did anyone expect? His entire 'bunker' team have been working on it for weeks. It won't make a blind bit of difference. If Labour lose the November by-election, the calls for him to go will grow louder. I really feel that the British people have lost faith in him and he will not lead Labour into the next Election. No amount of public money distributed as freebies, or rewriting of previous speeches will change anything. He could still be gone by Xmas, and there will be a General Election before June. I can see that from Spain.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Spanish Report 1 - Demise of the Referendum

In Spain, and I have internet access. No 1 son, Edward has been on to protest about the casual reference in my last post to the 'spare laptop' he's given me. It seems that its his best personal top-of-the-range ultra-light model, which cost north of a £1,000. Anyway, there's a connection point in our hotel room at the El Rompido Golf Resort, and I've just been catching up on what's happening back home. We've played the South Course today, and now waiting for a taxi at 9, to go out for dinner. So time for a quick post.

Most interesting story since I left on Monday morning has been the opinion poll carried out by the Institute of Welsh Politics at Aberystwyth, on behalf of the National Assembly Commission about where devolution should go from here. Its based on a survey of 2,500 people, carried out during June/July. Its results make bleak reading for those who are calling for a referendum on whether law making powers should be granted to the Assembly. It finds that 10% want an independent Wales, 39% want an Assembly with law making powers, 31% are content with the current LCO system of transferring powers to the Assembly, 15% want the whole shooting match to be abolished, and 6% do not know what they want.

I suppose the enthusiasts can say that 49% want a 'full Parliament for Wales', but its no good. It would be madness to go for a referendum on these figures. Its as dead as a dodo - before 2011 anyway. Must admit I'm losing a bit of interest in it myself. The Coalition partners have completely blown it through lack of commitment, and missed their chance. No leadership whatsoever. No inspiration. Seems to me that the better way to achieve the sort of constitutional arrangement that I want (I'd be in the 39%) is to focus on the Legislative Competence Order power transfer route, complex and unsatisfactory that it is.

And its easy to see why the Welsh people are not yet sold on the Assembly - when you're not part of the 'village' yourself. There are no inspirational people in leadershp positions - except Dafydd El, and he's sort of above the political fray. There's no Welsh 'Alex Salmond' - not that he's my cup of tea. There's not even a Welsh 'Paisley' - not my cup of tea either. Perhaps leadership and tea don't go together. Until there are individuals who learn the art of connecting with the people of Wales, the people of Wales are not going to connect with the Assembly. Anyway, its almost nine and time to change for dinner.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Off to the sun.

Not sure how much blogging there will be over the next week. I'm just heading off to Spain for a break - some sun, some golf, some reading and some Sancerre. Just my luck to have arranged to go looking for the sun on the very weekend that its came to us. Anyway, No 1 son, Edward has given me one of his spare laptops and something called a Wi-Fi cable and some instructions. I'm not at all confident that its going to work - but the intention is there. If you hear nothing for a week, you'll know that I've failed to master the technology. Enjoy the psuedo cries of 'We Love Gordon' that will be echoing in the skies above Manchester. I'm expecting to hear them from Spain.

Battle of 'Britishness'.

Declaring support for the idea of a United Kingdom is all,the rage. A few weeks back, my good friend David Davies, MP for Monmouth was all over the Welsh media as he promised to launch a 'No campaign'. Must admit that I wasn't entirely sure about what the campaign was going to say 'No' to - but I think that I got the general drift. And for the last year we've heard our beleaguered Prime Minister banging on about 'Britishness', a policy which seems to have backfired spectacularly in Scotland. In today's Wales on Sunday, its the turn of Welsh Office Minister, Huw Irranca-Davies. I really cannot see the sense in anyone who is committed to 'The Union' striving to raise this issue to the top of the agenda. It can only help the other side of the argument. I cannot think of an intervention more helpful to the cause of 'Welsh Independence' than that of Huw Irranca-Davies today.

The article by Tomos Livingstone begins by drawing an analogy with Scotland. Huw is quoted as saying

"When the idea of independence becomes mainstream, as we've seen in Scotland, its a dangerous time socially, economically and politically".

Quite. At present the idea of independence is not remotely mainstream. It probably has no more support than its had for decades. So what's the point of repeating the strategy of Gordon Brown and giving the issue as much publicity as possible. Its nuts. I've always been opposed to the idea of 'Independence'. Most Welsh people take the same view, though there has long been around 15% who disagree. Some of them are readers of this blog. While they talk about the issue amongst themselves, its entirely harmless. There is only one way that the 'idea of independence' will become mainstream. Alex Salmond has shown us that. Persuade your opponents to talk about it all the time. Government Ministers should not be going around desperately trying to raise the subject as an agenda issue - probably in order to do no more than win some coverage in the Wales on Sunday.


Spent yesterday afternoon in Llanidloes, leafleting and generally making myself available. I've always thought of Llanidloes as a very 'political town'. Early in the last century, the Labour Party moved into 'Llani' with manufacturing industry, and the Liberal Democrats became much associated with the town through the Hamer family, which is still very significant today. Lady Hooson is a 'Hamer', and she still lives in the town with the hugely respected Lord Hooson, who as Emlyn Hooson was Lib Dem MP for Montgomeryshire. Shirley's a bit like family to me - we've squabbled a lot over the years, but always managed to stay good friends.

I leafleted George Monbiot's house, without realising. I didn't know he lived in Llanidloes until yesterday. If he'd have been out in the garden, perhaps he's have given me a steer about the new Conservative 'Sustainability Forum' that I'm chairing. Much the biggest issue was the decision by Powys County Council to turn off two thirds of the street lights. While I applaud the Council for wanting to save money and energy, I reckon that this policy has gone much too far, and they'll have to rethink it.

Anyway, back to the subject of Avastin. I took a coffee before setting off home, as did an old friend I hadn't seen for about a year. He was taking a 'pit stop' on his way home to North Wales - with his wife. The last time we spoke his wife was very ill, suffering from Bowel Cancer, and I was very surprised to see her looking so well and buoyant. A year ago her prospects were bleak, but she has been treating herself with the new drug, Avastin. She's had to pay for it herself, because NICE have recommended that it shouldn't be available to her on the NHS. Perhaps I'm a bit too close to this issue, having suffered Bowel Cancer myself, but it does seem outrageous to me that the NHS doesn't allow the use of Avastin, the benefits of which were so obviously apparent to me as I took my tea in Llanidloes yesterday. Her good health put a smile on my face. We Bowel Cancer sufferers enjoy a bit of team spirit.

Friday, September 19, 2008

'Sustinability' Forum.

Was down in Cardiff yesterday. Bit of a sad day for us. We were moving furniture out of our flat in Century Wharf. Tenants are moving in next week. Its a lovely flat, and Mrs D in particular has enjoyed our stay there. But its just too costly to carry it on, while we use it so little. Cardiff will be day trips from now on.

Other reason I was in the Welsh Capitol yesterday was the first meeting of the Conservative 'Welsh Sustainability Forum'. The idea is that a group of individuals with an interest in the environment put together a package of recommendation for consideration by the Conservative Party for inclusion in it's next Assembly election manifesto. All members of the 'Forum' are politically independent, except me. Conservative Spokesman on the Environment, Darren Millar AM has asked me to chair this group. Our first meeting went very well. Don't expect the Party to take on board everything we'll recommend, and yesterday we had a good debate about wind farms and the Severn Barrage. Better not post about what was said though.

Arrived home at 2.00 am. Had a 'Last supper' at the Pearl - where we ate on the day we moved in to our flat. Drove home because we didn't want to stay in a flat denuded of those things that made in 'homely'. It would have been ironic if the accident in Croatia had been worse. In fact, if it had been fatal, I would have been immediately returned to the National Assembly as 'list' replacement AM for Mid and West Wales! I should add that I am very pleased indeed that Nick was not badly hurt.

When is it a con?

I've only ever used an autocue once, and that was to record a Party Political Broadcast, when I was told that it was vital, in order to ensure that the segments of speech matched exactly the clips of film. Even then I so disliked it that I discarded it and managed by memorising instead. I just don't like an autocue. I don't like using them, and I think they are a deception on the audience. If I'm speaking from notes, I prefer to hold up my speech so that everyone can see exactly what I'm doing.

This week Nick Clegg was widely reported as making his conference speech without notes. People have told me how impressed they were by this. Now I'm not saying that speaking with notes is any more or less laudable than 'going commando', but I'm not so sure about a speaker who likes to give the impression that he's freewheeling, when in fact he's reading it. It just doesn't seem right to me. I wonder how many speakers at the Labour and Conservative conferences will resort to the same tactic over the next two weeks.

Improving Forecast in Montgomeryshire.

I recall Iain Dale discussing prospects for the next General Election with some London based psephologist last year. When Iain suggested that Montgomeryshire could be an interesting contest, the London 'voice' dismissed the idea witheringly. Well, I do need a 11.4% swing to take the seat from the Lib Dems, the computer informs that Montgomeryshire is around 15th on our 'target seat' list in Wales, and the current MP is just about the best known Lib Dem MP in the UK. So I shall forgive him his 'detached' ignorance.

Denis Balsom is an entirely different kettle of fish. He actually knows something about Wales - and knows where Montgomeryshire is. This helps. In fact Denis is the best psephologist that we have in Wales. He was just about the only person who predicted that I would lose my position on the National Assembly last year. So let's see what he predicts for the next General Election in a report commissioned by the Institute of Welsh Affairs, covered in yesterday's Western Mail. It looks as if my personal weather outlook is rather promising.

What's interesting is that Denis is predicting that Montgomeryshire will fall to the Conservatives, even if there is no meltdown of the Labour vote. In this 'no-meltdown' scenario, he sees the Conservatives as winning perhaps 9 seats in Wales - including Montgomeryshire. In a 'meltdown' situation, Denis thinks that the Conservatives could win a lot more. Of course this doesn't mean that I should start looking for somewhere in London to lay down my tired head after each day's toil - but it certainly does put a spring in the step of all those supporters who are part of our local 'team'.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Nick Clegg - Bad Week

I was listening to a report on 5 Live today about this Middle East cleric who had offended sharia law by taking 86 wives and fathering almost 200 children. It seems that he was only allowed 4 wives. I wonder if he had any idea how much Child Benefit he would have been entitled to if he lived in the UK. Which brings me to Mr Nick Clegg.

Seems to me that the Leader of the Liberal Democrats has had a embarrassingly dismal week. Not only has he totally confused the nation about what the Liberal Democrats stand for, but he's opened himself up to even greater ridicule than that which followed his informing the nation via GQ Magazine of the number of notches he had on his bedpost.

Any figure between £80 and £100 would have been acceptable. We don't expect a party leader, chosen for his telegenic appearance to know precisely that the state pension is £90.70. But "30 quid". Its clear that Nick Clegg has not the slightest idea how the elderly people of Britain live. Out of touch or what! And there's worse.

Oh how they laughed at George W Bush when some clever dick journalist 'exposed' his inability to name the capitol of Outer Mongolia (or wherever). "Dudya's a thicko. Not fit to be a leader" they said. And the same leftie elite fell over themselves to mock Sarah Palin as a God-fearing, gun-toting, anti-abortion ex beauty queen. "How can such a woman be placed a heartbeat away from the nuclear button?" they ask incredulously. Well, that goes down rather well in the USA. And then up steps Nick Clegg to make Sarah look a pillar of suitability. In today's Conference speech he talked about other names he'd never heard of - Bear Stearns, Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, Lehman Brothers. Can you believe it - and he thought the state pension was "30 quid". And he wants to be our Prime Minister!

Now where did this figure of 30 come from. Perhaps he says 30 whenever he's asked an unexpected question.

What's the state pension Nick?......................£30 quid.
How many women have you had sex with Nick/..........30
How much is a dozen eggs Nick?.......................30p
How many breasts has an Amazon Nick?.................30 (I once knew someone who answered this question with 6)
How many Lib Dems after the next election Nick? 30 (You should be so lucky)

Anyway, he's told the Liberal Democrats that they are on the way to Government - just as David Steel did. "Go back to your constituencies and prepare for Government". Better take a look at tomorrow's opinion poll.

Election next Feb/March?

Tomorrow, I'll be telephoning my constituency chairman to inform him of my opinion that we should prepare for a General Election in Feb/March. I really do think that Gordon Brown will not survive to the end of the year. There will be a final effort to rally the Labour Party behind the Prime Minister at Labour's Conference next week - and his big speech will be hailed a success. But it will make no difference.

Its not the dozen or so MPs who have asked him to go. And it would not matter if this figure rose to 30. Its not that one Minister has resigned. And it would make no difference if that figure rose to 3/4. But Cabinet members. That's different - especially if its anyone who's spoken of as a possible replacement. Step forward James Parnell, who has tonight made supportive comments about the rebels (according to Newsnight). This is incendiary (assuming its true). Hutton didn't matter. But other Cabinet members who fancy the top job cannot allow Parnell to steal a march on them.

And if the Prime Minister is forced out, what will the new man or woman do. Well lets think about it. What's the best way to make sure Gordon Brown gets the blame for any defeat. If a defeat comes in Feb/March, the blame will land on Gordon Brown's doorstep, and the new leader gets to fight another day. If its held in June 2010, no-one will remember Gordon Brown, an dthe new leader will cop the blame. And a decision to go in Feb/March would take control of the agenda, and score high marks for boldness. I'm not saying its probable yet, but its a lot more probable tonight than it was this morning, and it's the way the big stone is rolling. I think quite a few association chairs will be having telephone calls tomorrow.

Train talk..

Had a chat with Edna Mopbucket on the 'dog and bone' tonight. I'm down in the National Assembly tomorrow afternoon, and rang to offer her a coffee in Starbuck's in the Bay. She's doing a bit of cleaning in Bermondsey at the moment and has taken to using 'Cockney' slang. Anyway, I knew she had a bit of gossip as soon as she spoke. Like a lot of ladies, she wanted to share it with me, but wanted it wheedled out of her. After a bit of coaxing she did.

Seems she was on the train to Paddington from Cardiff, just minding her own business, when the silver haired, suntanned smoothie in the next seat took a phone call on his mobile. "Peter Hain here" she heard, and her ears pricked. Now Edna's never liked 'Hain' as she calls him, ever since he threw drawing pins all over the rugby pitches when Gareth and Barry were in South Africa on a Lions tour, and in their pomp. She loved Gareth, and despises anyone who says a bad word about him, let alone tries to stick pins in his knees.

Edna tells me that the conversation became quite animated, and Peter made the mistake of thinking the lady in the next seat nonchalantly reading Women's Own wasn't listening. But she was. And she heard him say as clear as day "We're stuffed. We're absolutely stuffed" And Edna tells me she was as certain as can be that he was talking about the Labour Party. On this occasion he was spot on in his judgement.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

But did she mean it.

Some media coverage in Wales today has been speculating that Ms Kirsty Williams (who looks odds on to walk unchallenged into the leadership of the Liberal Democrats in Wales) would be content to consider a coalition with the Conservatives in the National Assembly. Now this is very interesting. Its widely thought that she was a prime mover behind the fateful decision by the Lib Dem Executive Committee Meeting to scupper the proposed coalition between Plaid Cymru, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives, immediately after the last Assembly election. It also seemed to me that Ms Williams was deeply opposed to any any sort of working arrangement with us during my 8 years in the National Assembly. It looks a significant change of position.

As regular readers of this blog will know, I've long advocated serious consideration of a working agreement between the Conservatives and Plaid Cymru at Assembly level - even though I accept that it may well become increasingly difficult and unlikely as more powers are transferred to the Assembly through Legislative Competence Orders. The only alternative is government led by Labour for the foreseeable future - not a joyous prospect. Last May, the numbers required that the Liberal Democrats signed up to the deal as well. Next time, this may well not be the case. So Ms Williams' changed position is strategically sensible from a partisan point of view, as well as being an extremely welcome development to all of us who want to see Labour experience the discomfort of the opposition benches in the Assembly.

The Fundamental Truth about Business.

A few months ago I ventured into the City of London, a place almost as unfamiliar to me as a hypermarket. But there was I, trained as a hill sheep farmer, discussing 'Corporate Greed' with a man of very different background, but of similar outlook. We were instinctive 'capitalists' concerned about the 'greed' which seemed to becoming commonplace within our financial institutions. The discussion had been 'triggered' by reports of the first billion pounds bonus, and a speech by Peter Hain, a then Government Minister condemning the unacceptability of such massive rewards. OK, so he was contesting Labour's Deputy Leadership at the time. My friend and I contemplated the resentment that might be felt by those involved in under pressure manufacturing, compared with the massive sums being paid in bonuses to those employed in financial services. We felt that Peter Hain may have a point. Neither of us had any inkling that a day like yesterday was just around the corner. And there's plenty more to come.

Now, there are some fundamentals about capitalism, to which Jeff Randall refers in his blunt speaking way. Truth is that there is no real difference between running an international bank and a sweetshop, a toyshop or a hill sheep farm - except for the collateral damage that might be caused when they go bust. A good hill sheep farm business, not over borrowed, competent farmer, good record of profit and efficiency will survive a year like 2007, when Blue Tongue Disease played such havoc with profits. An over borrowed hill sheep farm, with a farmer taking too much out of the business, and with no allowance being made for future financial squalls, will sink. Its the same with financial institutions - when it comes to fundamentals. And when the tornado arrives its too late to worry about the foundations, if all the money has gone into flashy redecoration. Even with the biggest financial institutions in the world, if the managers forget the fundamentals, they go bust. That's how capitalism works. It looks as if there are going to be an awful lot of casualties.

Its the same with Government. Gordon Brown is the political equivalent of Lehman Brothers. For years he rode the tiger, informing the world that he had ended the concept of 'boom and bust' and spending taxpayer's money with little regard for value. But the tiger fell sick, and the Prime Minister has been caught out. The Scottish Emperor has no clothes. He may well go the way of Lehman Brothers - and for the same reason.

Monday, September 15, 2008

My Way.

This is an indulgent personal post - stimulated by Janice Hooper and an anonymous comment on another post over the last day or two. Their general entirely reasonable point has been made by several others - usually supporters.

At about the age of 12, I developed a forceful temperament. Not overly aggressive, but 'Never a step backwards' became a personal style. Around the rugby fields of the Midlands I became known as the 'Paul Ringer of Mid Wales'. Rugby fans will know what that means. Over the years, I worked hard to drive out this 'dark side' - and been so successful that Janice and others who comment on my blog occasionally accuse me of being politically wimpish. Since this appearance of reason and reasonableness is the result of a conscious decision, I will try to offer an explanation.

I suppose it started when I first ventured forth from our hill sheep farm in search of a breeding partner. Experience quickly informed that compromise was a precursor to success. And then children, where an unnatural gentleness was essential. The final nail in the coffin of the belief in winning argument by force was hammered in when I reached the age of 32. My father died, leaving me to run the family business, and I was elected to Montgomeryshire District Council in the same month. Suddenly what mattered were 'outcomes', both political and financial. Its been the same ever since.

Some 15 months ago, the Montgomeryshire Conservative Association adopted me as their candidate for the next General Election. Although I needed a 11.4% swing to win, I decided that there was a strategy that might deliver an unlikely victory - instill in the thoughts of the people of Montgomeryshire that we are, first and foremost, committed to public service in their interests. The media give huge unbalanced publicity to my Liberal Democrat opponent, so we have to go direct to the people - and focus rigidly on our commitment to public service. That's what we do. Generally, I ignore the activities of the Montgomeryshire MP. He does it his way. So far, our strategy has gone rather well. Last May we took 6 of the Montgomeryshire seats on Powys County Council. (We had never won a single election before). Many people who have never voted Conservative before are telling us that they are now with us. I genuinely believe that I'm now in with a chance of winning. Often I'm told that the Liberal Democrats will 'play dirty' using a 'rumour network' - suggesting that I should do the same. Sometimes we might feel like that, but why change a winning strategy.

Occasionally, I will attack the Liberal Democrats, and sometimes criticise the current MP. But I believe the strategy we have adopted is that most likely to deliver - and I want to win.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Principles or None.

For almost my entire life, Montgomeryshire has been represented by a Liberal/Liberal Democrat. Everyone admired Clement Davies (MP when I was too young to care). I hugely admired Emlyn Hooson personally, and still do today. I look on him as a good friend. And Alex Carlile was my next door neighbour, and acknowledged as an outstandingly able MP. And I know Lembit Opik. So both as a resident of Montgomeryshire, and as a Parliamentary Candidate who hopes to represent the grand old county in Westminster after the next General Election, it follows that I take an interest in what the Lib Dems are saying.

Well, its very difficult to be sure. It seems to change very frequently. In general I've always thought of them as being in favour of higher public spending - which translates into higher taxation. The Lib Dems have been fighting elections on a policy of more public spending for as long as I can remember. And then there's the matter of European integration. The one political party in the UK that was fully signed up to the European ideal is the Lib Dems. And then there's a few secondary issues like proportional representation and a Local income Tax. Can't think of much else, if we discount the waffle. So what the h*** is going on at their Bournemouth Conference.

Former leader, Charles Kennedy was on the Politics Show today. "Taxation is too high" he said - and added that he wants to see "Smaller Government" and people having "More disposable income". This is just for starters. Nick Clegg's spin doctors have been badgering every TV studio to allow him in to tell us that he wants to cut the overall tax burden - not just a switch from the 'poor' to the 'rich'. 4p off income tax and at least £20 billion off public spending. And Vince Cable has been going round rubbishing the idea of the UK joining the Euro. That's right. The Lib Dems playing the Eurosceptic card! Its b***** amazing. Even Charles Kennedy said today that the time for joining the Euro is not now - and I thought he was the most Europhile politician in the UK. And I understand that the Lib Dem's in the Scottish Parliament are opposing the SNP's proposal to introduce a Local Income Tax. What next? Perhaps they'll be in favour of 'first-past-the-post' as a system of election tomorrow.

Seems to me that its not a question of whether these are sensible policy changes. Its more a question of whether the Liberal Democrats actually believe in anything at all, or ever did.

Rudbeckias (Coneflowers)

At last. A dry weekend which coincides with me having time to attend to the grass. The weather has been so unfriendly that its run to about 4 inches, which is way too long for the mulcher. It'll need to be cut for three days in a row to bring things back under control. After the first cut it looks a bit as if I'm taking a crop of silage form the lawn.
Its Rudbeckia time in the hot border - and will be until the frost. The wet summer really suits them. This is the most commonly grown Rudbeckia. I think its called 'Goldquelle' and its about 30 inches high. Spreads well, and really easy to divide in spring. Its just about the best value yellow border plant around. No weaknesses - except that it does need water in a severe drought. But then, who doesn't. Its the Bishop of Llandaff Dahlias providing the red in the background. I use 'The Bishop' as a 'gap filler' in the hot border.
I really like this Rudbeckia. Not sure what its called. About 12 inches taller than 'Goldquelle', and just a shade more subtle (though subtlety is not their strenght). No faults - and a bit less prone to succumb to the severe drought. Its crocosmia, Emily McKensie providing the orange/red in front.
This Rudbeckia is about 6 feet tall and only suitable for the back of a border. I don't know its name, but we like it a lot. Its not fully out yet, but you can get the idea. We grow it amongst other tall and strong plants, but it does stand up on its own surprisingly well. No garden is complete without Rudbeckias.

Peter Hain AM - again.

I hope that BBC's Wales man in Westminster, David Cornock is at the Lib Dem Conference this weekend - and not at Plaid Cymru's seaside get-together at Aberystwyth. He would have done unto himself a physical misfortune during an uncontrollable laughing fit. And there'll be a few others laughing over their muesli this morning as they read today's Wales on Sunday offering by David Williamson. The subject of all this mirth will have been the conference speech delivered by Adam Price MP yesterday.

Adam must have been reading my blog, which has been predicting for several months that former Secretary of State for Wales, Peter Hain might be looking for a 'free transfer' from Westminster to the National Assembly, where he would undoubtedly put a bit of spark into the place. Being honest, I admit that I was indulging in a bit of idle speculation when I floated the idea, albeit based on a calculation of political realities. It still caused Mr Cornock (and others) to pour ridicule upon my person. And then the Western Mail gave the idea another little outing a few weeks back. More laughter from the BBC.

Anyway Adam has been taking the whole thing so seriously that he based his conference speech on it. David Williamson reports that 'Firebrand Price' told the world that he intends to stand against Peter in a Neath by-election, assuming that Mrs Gwenda Thomas AM can be persuaded to move house up the M4 and replace the 'Mrs' with 'Baroness' - certainly not a given.

This blog does occasionally set out to amuse by commenting on the bizarre. Here goes. This is what the 'Firebrand' is reported to have' roared' on the conference platform yesterday.

"He's going to find one heck of a fight if he does call a by-election. In Westminster we represent the same valley, the valley that I'm from. But we represent two very different versions of the future of Wales. If you, Peter, in your hubris, really think you can lead this country when you don't even believe we're ready for a parliament - when you trumpeted the goals of social justice in pamphlet after pamphlet, but sit on your hands in Cabinet - then call that By-election and I'll see you on the streets of Gwaun-cae-Gurwen and let the people decide".

It would be interesting to hear what Peter Hain thinks of this 'gauntlet' that has been so flamboyantly cast down in his path, or what Mrs Gwenda Thomas thinks of swapping her cherished title of Mrs, or what former TV pundit, Mr Lee Waters thinks of Peter slipping into the Neath AM slot, and what David Cornock thinks - after he has regained his post-laughter composure.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Siobhain keeps the pot boiling

This blog has been predicting an early challenge to Gordon Brown's leadership of the Labour Party, and his position as Prime Minister - not with certainty, but as a better than even chance. This is why we in Montgomeryshire are gearing up for a General Election next June, as a new leader goes for damage limitation. I just cannot believe that Labour MPs will walk mindlessly over the cliff behind the clearly out-of-his-depth Gordon Brown. A new Prime Minister will not want to wait until June 2010, when the blame for defeat would have been inherited from Mr Brown. I note that the BBC's political experts disagree. They all think the Prime Minister is safe. I think they are too close to the trees to see the wider landscape.

Well, today a Government whip called for a leadership contest - a synonym for the early removal from office of the Prime Minister. BBC covers it here. Its probably the first time that most of us have heard of Siobhain McDonagh, which suggests that she is not one of the 'usual suspects'. Inevitably, she was promptly fired. The question that is hanging in the air is to what extent is this is part of a destabilisation campaign. To this observer, it does not look like an isolated act. She's a whip, and they know a bit about tearoom chatter. I expect another grenade to be lobbed into the Brown Bunker tomorrow from behind another unexpected bush.

As expected, the Brown 'Character Rubbishing And Pulverisation' unit has swung into action - but have to observe that CRAP's spokesperson on tonight's news was even less well known than Ms McDonagh. I'm sorry that I've arranged a few days holiday in Spain during the Labour Party Conference. It promises to be quite a lively affair

Home support evaporates.

I don't take a lot of interest in what my political opposition in Montgomeryshire is up to, but every Parliamentary candidate has to keep at least half an eye on the other side. In my case this involves noting the campaigning strategy of the MP for Montgomeryshire.

I must admit that I'd assumed he would win the contest to become President of the Liberal Democrat Party when Simon Hughes' term is up. I'd factored in the added publicity this would generate. I know, I know. He was totally hammered the last time he stood. But then he was up against a 'big name' - well 'big' in Lib Dem terms anyway. This time his only anticipated opponent is the little known Baroness Ros Scott, about whom my investigations have revealed nothing but good reports. Hmmm, perhaps its not going to be the shoe-in for Lembit Opik that he was expecting - if this is typical of sentiment in the party. Its never a good sign when 'home' support evaporates.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Watch for the 'Weasel Words'.

I like Aberystwyth. I didn't like it when I was a child because it had so little sand on its beach. I preferred Borth and Ynyslas. Anyway, Aberystwyth has made it onto the UK news today, because its currently home to the Plaid Cymru's Annual Party Conference.

BBC tells us that its Parliamentary Leader (and recently defeated Presidential candidate) Elfyn Llwyd is challenging Gordon Brown to hold an election. "Bring it on Gordon" is the clarion call ringing out over Aber tonight. Elfyn reckons that Plaid can emerge from a General Election with a few more MPs. He also reckons that he's going to win a million on the lottery this week. I don't think propping up Labour in Government in Cardiff Bay was a terribly smart idea - if the plan was to win more MPs. I suppose they could be in with a shout in Ceredigion though.

It will be more interesting to hear what Ieuan Wyn Jones says about the commitment he gave his party members to deliver a referendum on full law making powers for the National Assembly (in devolved subject areas) should be held before 2011. Regular readers will know that I think this referendum is about as likely as Elfyn coming up with the winning lottery ticket. But of course, IWJ will have to insist its still on schedule. But watch for the get-out weasel words. You know the sort of thing.

"The reality is that we will deliver the referendum that we promised (wild applause) ....if we are confident that the people will say Yes. And if we're not confident, we'll put the blame on the Tories and Rhodri Glyn Thomas and his lit cigar."

Personally, I'm beginning to think that there might be no referendum at all. IWJ should tell his members that if the Legislative Competence Order procedure carries on even reasonably successfully for the next 5 years, there won't be many more powers to transfer - without extending devolution into completely new fields of competence. Now that would create some fireworks in the Aberystwyth sky.

Bowel Cancer Screening

I joined tonight's meeting of the Montgomeryshire Community Health Council (CHC) as an observer. Person's responsible for developing a Bowel Screening Programme for Wales were presenting an update on progress. I'm interested in this subject.

At long last, it seems that we are finally getting there. Its anticipated that the screening programme will begin in October. Testing kits, which cost just 37p each will be sent out to all 60-69 year olds in Wales. The aim is to extend the age range to 74 in two years time, and eventually include everyone between 50-74. This is the first time that men are involved in a comprehensive screening programme. But I do wonder how many will join in. We men are a bit funny about this sort of thing. It involves spreading a bit of what is delicately termed 'feacal matter' on the 37p card, and sending it back via the Royal Mail. I chuckled when Reg Taylor, an ex-postman, who is a member of the CHC, chipped in the opinion that he was glad that he'd retired! I believe that the 'marked cards' will b ein some sort of sealed envelope. The cards will be tested in a central lab to check for any signs of blood, not easily detected by the naked eye.

If there is blood, there will be follow up, involving a Specialist Screening Practitioner (SSP), who will conduct a phone call to assess whether the next stage is appropriate - a colonoscopy, which is a camera up the backside and around the bowel to search out any nasties. The reason all this is so important is that Bowel Cancer can be wholly curable - as long as its detected early enough. I do know this better than most.

This programme has been too long coming, but we want it to be a success.

Welcome Signs.

I've been out delivering leaflets to the householders of Llandysil in Montgomeryshire tonight. I'm never sure what to do when there's a sign near the post box requesting that 'No junk Mail' should be left. I did come upon two interesting signs though, one of which took the form of a warning. 'Tresspassers will be shot. Survivers will be shot again'. And another one made the suggestion that callers should go away and 'Garden naked and put some colour in your cheeks'.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Hairy Armpits and Rollercoasters.

I concede that I'm no authority on this, but I'd never have put hairy armpits at the top of the wiles that a lady might employ to attract a mate. But this is what Mr Richard Robinson, a psychologist and author told the British Association for the Advancement of Science festival - according to today's Telegraph and Mail. And he told them why.

"The most important thing in attracting a mate is how they smell, because its the best indicator that a person is genetically different from you. You should not shave your armpits because this allows your smell to form".

Personally, I have my doubts about this theory. But with the Great Hadron Collider start-up going so well today, its not a time to be arguing with scientists. It seems that its the 'Phenyl ethylamine' that does it. Its this hormone of love that turns the head - and it works even at a distance. Mr Robinson also informs us that taking a lady on a rollercoaster will fetch the Phenyl ethylamine out at a superfast rate and lead to virtual instant love. Apparently all exciting situations produce the same effect. When I was a young man, some of my friends used to swear by this theory, and drive their sports cars at crazy speeds (whenever a rollercoaster wasn't handy). This tactic wasn't available to me because the only two-seater I had was the farm mini pick-up. Personally, I hated rollercoasters, and was not a stupidly fast driver. But then I didn't have access to Mr Robinson's advice, so didn't know about my inherent disadvantage..

This theory about a lady's smells is to do with attracting opposite genes which give a broader immunity against disease to any issue that might result from the sudden pulse of the hormone of love. I suppose that I didn't really need to be quite so scientific about things when I was young because the lingering ambiance of chicken slurry and cattle manure was sufficient to make me stand out from the crowd. Must admit that I never thought about its magnetic qualities though. I was only saying earlier today that if I could live my life again, I would have fancied being a scientist.

Barnett Review Uncertainties.

Enjoyed a cappuccino this morning at a Cardiff Bay cafe named Mischief. They remember me there because I was their very first customer. Reading my Telegraph in full relax mode when my eye was drawn to an innocuous little report by James Kirkup at the foot of page 4. The issue under report would be a candidate for 'Most boring subject of the decade' - except that its rather important. I speak of course of 'the Barnett Formula'.

This 'Barnett Formula' is the mechanism by which public money approved for spending each year by the Government is distributed amongst the four nations of the UK. Its so named because it was established some 30 years ago when Joel Barnett was the responsible Minister. It hasn't been changed since. During the 8 years I was an Assembly Member, both Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats were vociferous in their demands that the Formula should be abandoned and a new system put in place - usually calling for it to be needs-based and claiming that Wales would benefit to the tune of hundreds of millions of pounds. For part of that period I was the Conservative Finance Spokesman,(shadowing the hugely respected Finance Minister, Sue Essex). We were both reluctant to support what we saw as opening an unpredictable can of worms.

Back to today's article and the point of this post. It seems that the Taxpayer's Alliance has just published a report, written by a former Treasury economist, Mike Denham also supporting calls for a review of Barnett. But from a rather different perspective - and one that I feared might prove to be the most influential worm in the can. It claims that £200,000,000,000 has been spent in Wales, Scotland and N. Ireland over and above the equivalent per capita amount that has been spent in England since the Formula was introduced. The report also points out that in 2007/8 per capita spend in England was £7'535, while in Scotland it was £9,179, in Wales it was £8,577 and in N. Ireland it was £9789. I've no reason to think these figures are inaccurate. The reason for this of course is that public money was distributed according to need when Joel Barnett was in charge, and the need has always been greater in Scotland, Wales and N. Ireland. But its not how everyone sees things - especially in England. Another of the unpredictable worms in the can is the extent to which any review will be subject to political 'manipulation'. My advice to those who assume with casual certainty that huge financial benefit will flow towards Wales following a review of Barnett is 'Be careful what you wish for' and 'Proceed with great care'.

Monday, September 08, 2008

A Free Lunch in Llandrindod.

Don't tell me that blogs are a waste of time. It gets me into all sorts of interesting places. Today it was the Annual Conference of the Society of Local Council Clerks in the Metropole at Llandrindod Wells. I was on immediately pre lunch, which is always a good slot - as long as things are not running late. They weren't today. My invite came courtesy of Jim Griffiths, who acts as Clerk to the Society as well as Aberystwyth Town Council. He also reads this blog. The photo is of me between two serious big wigs in the local council world.

Must admit I blanched a bit when I turned up. For some reason I'd been expecting a fairly informal meeting of around 30/40. I arrived to find 105 delegates in a highly professional setting. Huge display boards, various presentation equipment and what looked like a horribly well informed audience. I was billed as President of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales, but Jim had told me I could talk about whatever I wanted - so I did just that. It must be the thespian in me, because I really enjoy this sort of thing. And I have the added benefit that I enjoy it more when I just talk out of my head with no preparation beyond a basic speech structure of 3/4 reference points in my mind.

I stayed on to hear Alan Southerby, who emerged from the Planning Department of Powys County Council to tell the representatives of Welsh Town and Community Councils how they could 'make their views count'. If you listen carefully, you may be able to hear me snort derisively as I type out these words. It would probably have been the same irrespective of which planner's bunker, the speaker had emerged from. The line that caught my attention was that the fact that objection to a proposal from every single resident in a community has absolutely no relevance when a planning application is being considered. It makes not one jot of difference. I wanted to shout out "Why the b***** h*** not", but retained control. Left thinking to myself 'What has happened to the idea of 'local democracy' in Wales'. The problem is that the vast majority of planning applications are now decided by 'officials'. Elected councillors have only the miniest walk-on role. It wouldn't be so bad, but during the 30 years I've been involved in public life, I've never heard so much complaint from virtually everyone involved in trying to secure permission to do something. Sorry Alan, I'm not just picking on you. Its probably the same everywhere. For some bizarre reason in Britain we've reached a position where only the 'trained elite' are deemed competent to take decisions. Its even worse in the European Union. And then I read Janet Daley when I stopped for a coffee in Jay's in Newtown on the way home.

Good day though. Thanks for the invite Jim.

Dan Brown comes to life.

On Wednesday, the world may come to an end.

Last Xmas, I enjoyed reading Dan Brown's thriller 'Angels and Demons'. It seemed total fantasy to me. Who would have thought that there was something as fantastical as a Large Hadron Collider, built and run by a secret and mysterious body called CERN, made up of the world's top scientists, funded by all the nations of the world rich enough to pay for their bit of the action. And that the basis of this secret development would involve particle accelerators which whizzed these little nanodots around a perfect circular tunnel, 27 kilometers in circumference at the tiniest fraction less than the speed of light. And that the plan would be to spin these particles both ways in the hope that some of them will bump into each other, even though no-one had the foggiest idea what would happen when they did. Well this was the basis of Dan Brown's book - but it turns out it wasn't a figment of Dan Brown's imagination at all. The Large Hadron Collider, which cost £4.4 billion to build is being switched on the day after tomorrow in Geneva. There have been some attempts to stop this happening, by those who think it may destroy the world.

Martin Rees is Astronomer Royal and President of the Royal Society, and he's very excited about all this. I read his article in today's Telegraph - and felt a bit like little Ffion looks when dumped down in the middle of an unfamiliar room. She just sits there, eyes wide open, trying to take in what she's looking at. I read the article twice. Found it difficult to grasp the concept of space as being 10 dimensional - or that atoms only make up 10% of the stuff in the universe, and no-one has any idea what the constitutes the other 90%. This was too much even for Dan Brown. I wonder when we'll read about a plot to blow up the Vatican with anti-matter, the other half of the 'Angels and Demons' plot.

Advice for Gordon Brown.

The Prime Minister must be feeling thoroughly p****d off after reading the weekend's newspapers. Note that despite it being acceptable to Alistair Darling, Vince Cable and Nick Robinson of the BBC, I've decided to censor the use of this lavatorial term from this blog. Standards maketh man. It must have been particularly galling when he turned for blessed relief to Polly Toynbee in the Guardian. Not so long ago she was lauding Gordon Brown as if he was the 'second coming'. On Saturday she begged him to go for the sake of the Labour Party - using the sort of verbals that Charles Clarke confines to singing in the bath behind closed doors.

Anyway, I've found some sound advice for the Prime Minister. This morning I received a Debating Handbook from the Council of Education and World Citizenship. Reason is that I'm adjudicating at the 2008 Wales Schools Debating Championships later this month. This is some of the advice that the Handbook gives to competitors.

Adjudicators will mark you down if:

You provide unclear or irrelevant arguments or points of information.

You only make assertions which are not supported with evidence.

You make a speech which is only a string of statistics.

You use dubious facts or statistics.

You use arguments without a clear structure.

You appear to contradict your partner, or provide repetitive arguments.

Gordon Brown would not do very well in this competition!

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Anticipation of Fame

Our neighbour is a blacksmith. Not any old blacksmith, more an artist with iron. His name is William O'Brien and he lives and works in Berriew. The reason that my blog has been a bit sleepy over the weekend is that I've been otherwise occupied - and one of the things I've been occupied doing was attending an exhibition of William's work. The reason I mention this is that if William O'Brien becomes a blacksmith of international renown, you will have heard it here first. The 'Large Poppies' featured was my favorite work.

Another name to note is Roger Hughes, a farmer from Trefeglwys. He was simply brilliant as the master of ceremonies and everything else at Saturday night's Strictly Come Dancing in the Village Hall. I was one of the judges, taking the Louis role. I couldn't be the Simon Cowell of the panel. No point in throwing votes away. I'll never forget John the Bull (he's a breeder of Charollais bulls before you get the wrong idea) mincing along in the ballet competition, or Russell's smouldering performance in the Paso Doble. And Jo's white knickers caused a bit of a stir in the Jive - especially for the lorry driver who paid £200 for them when she auctioned them off at the end of the night. He even had to take them off himself. For the record Jo was not prepared to auction off her underknickers. No idea how much they'd have made. All in all, a great evening's entertainment, and for my money, Roger Hughes is worth more than Jonathon Ross and Graham Norton put together. There's so much talent hidden away in the Welsh hills.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Time for delivery on Bovine Tb.

Roman Jones sometimes writes letters in the Montgomeryshire County Times, and this week's is about badger culling. This is one area where he and I disagree. Roman doesn't share my support for the National Assembly's decision to conduct a trial badger cull somewhere in Wales to establish whether such action would help control the spread of Bovine Tb. But it has spawned this post, which asks when are we going to hear the timescale for the Assembly's decision to be implemented.

Not many people outside the farming and animal welfare communities are engaged with this debate - which is why I'm blogging about it. Its highly controversial and opinion is deeply opposed. Its what might be called a 'black and white' issue. This week's Farmer's Gaurdian has gone big on how it effects England's farmers. Latest figures show that the number of cattle culled as a result of Bovine Tb in England has increased by 40% to 17,000 in the last year. 9% of English livestock farms are under movement restriction. Thousands of bull calves, not needed as replacements are being shot at birth as a result of an (unofficial) ban imposed by European countries. The food and animal health committee in Brussels (SCoFCAH) is discussing official sanctions on cattle exports because of the disease. There is also reference to the possible re-emergence of a link between Bovine Tb and humans, though personally I disapprove of this sort of talk without hard evidence. And Defra vets are supposedly in a state of deep depression, as they seek to deal with a disease through slaughtering all the cattle effected, while leaving reservoirs of infection in the badger populations.

Any decision to cull badgers will be strongly resisted, and huge amounts of money will be ploughed into legal challenges. It takes a Minister with real 'b****' to sanction a cull. Hilary Benn, responsible Minister for England is not blessed with the necessary equipment and has decided to do nothing except tighten rules on cattle farmers - the equivalent of a householder tackling increases in theft by putting double locks on all the windows while leaving the front door wide open - adorned with a sign saying "Help yourself".

Welsh Minister, Elin Jones took a brave decision in the spring of this year. This blog, along with many others applauded her for it. But its approaching time for delivery. Several months have passed while she has pondered where the 'pilot' area is going to be located. I accept she has to proceed with certainty and care. I also accept that the inevitable legal challenges will have to be properly anticipated. The Assembly is back in session in two weeks time. If I was still an Assembly Member, my first question to the Minister would be "where's the action?"

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Let David Davies Speak Out.

So my good friend, David Davies MP is organising a No campaign. 'No to what' was my first thought. When I played for Shrewsbury, we used to have a prop forward who worked himself up into such a lather during the warm-up that when the match actually started, he was too knackered to push in the scrum. I've never been one for expending too much energy before the contest starts - particularly without knowing kick-off time, or the rules of the game. I don't think this will do much harm at all. Perhaps they should form their own rugby team.

I've never hidden the fact that since the people of Wales declined to accept my advice in 1997 to reject the establishment of a National Assembly, (and voted in favour of it), I've supported full law making powers for the new body in already devolved subject areas. Seemed to me to be simple recognition of the new reality. Anyway the predictable happened. Confusion about responsibility reigned and accountability flew out through the window. So they had another go at making some sense of it last year. Law making powers are now being transferred to the Assembly by this bizarre arrangement involving Legislative Competence Orders. This system has built into it the potential for constitutional conflict between Cardiff Bay and Westminster on an ongoing basis. In my opinion this system is ridiculously complex, beyond the understanding of most people, and the biggest waste of politician's time since the European Parliament decided to shift the whole shebang to Strasbourg for the odd week.

So what's to be done now? 15 months ago, I believed that Labour and Plaid Cymru had resolved to hold a referendum on whether this LCO system should be scrapped and law making powers in all devolved subject areas transferred to Cardiff Bay. Personally, I would have supported such a transfer of powers. But so lacking in intent has the Assembly Government been that I believe there to be no longer any intention to hold such a referendum before 2011 after all. In my opinion, the reason that the Government is not informing the people of this is because it would be very embarrassing for Ieuan Wyn Jones to admit to his party members that they were sold a pup when they agreed to enter into a coalition government with Labour.

So I really cannot understand why anyone should want to organise either a No campaign or a Yes campaign at the moment. Its like putting together a football team which has no matches to play. I discussed this matter with Martin Shipton this morning. Don't know whether he'll run anything though. Quite properly he asked me what I would do at present. Its not an easy question to answer. I suppose its back to recognition of reality. I'm just not sure its possible for an Assembly Government to ride two headstrong horses at the same time - transferring power to the Assembly bit by bit, or transferring it all in one go. Until I believe there is a genuine prospect of a referendum, my commitment is to seeing the current system work effectively. Its the main reason that I want to be a Member of Parliament.

So I'm entirely happy to see my good friend David Davies arrange his cross-party No campaign. As a matter of hypothetical interest, I probably wouldn't join any cross-party Yes campaign. I might agree with its objectives, and would share my opinion to anyone who wanted to hear it, (as I do) but I've never believed these cross party efforts deliver anything that wouldn't be delivered better without them.

A Frustrated Diplomat.

"Hello Edna", I said. "Mrs Mopbucket if you don't mind" was the snooty response. and she sounded as if she'd been to the same voice doctor as Mrs Thatcher used when she went all deep and authoritative in the mid 80s. "Just you remember that I'm a 'hockey mom' with lipstick" she snapped, and then started growling like a pit bull. Edna's always been a touch unpredictable, but suddenly she reckons her background as a hockey player and a mother gives her the same status as an American Vice-President. Sarah Palin is clearly going to unsettle the delicate gender balance that underpins every liberal democracy in the western world.

Anyway, Edna was on with news. She's been doing some cleaning in Cathay's Park last week. She was just passing a dingy little office with 'All wales Convention' scribbled on the door, when she heard strange noises from within. It started with a raised voice, followed by silence, followed by a fist banging the desk and then what sounded like a human head beating itself against the wall. Edna, being Edna, peeped through the keyhole and saw this rather urbane fellow tearing his well groomed hair out. She couldn't see very well but thought he was wearing a badge with something like Sir Emyr Jonah-Pariah written on it. What follows is what she thought she heard him say on the telephone. You can believe it if you want.

"What the hell do you mean by 'slow things down a bit' Rhodri. If I go any slower I'll fall off the b***** bike. Do you want this b****** referendum by 2011 or not.
(Long pause)
Now look here Rhodri. I'm sick of being a pawn in your silly little game. If you don't want a referendum, tell the people. I've faffed around for twelve months already. Enough's enough. Frustrated is what I am Rodders - very frustrated. I've a mind to ring up Martin Shipton and let him know what you just said.
(Another long pause)
Its not my job to help Ieuan Wyn Jones keep his B****** infantry behind him - or to give you a nice comfortable run-in to retirement. When you asked me to help you deliver what you called a 'New wales', I thought you meant it. Just because I've been a diplomat for most of my life does not mean that I never want to actually deliver something - or that I won't rock the boat. Do you hear me Rodders. I am frustrated by the patheiic progress we are making - and you ask me to slow things down a bit. You're really pushing me to the limit. Now what's Shipton's number."
Then there was silence, until the head banging started.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Was that it?

I've always found Stamp Duty to be an insidious tax. It has discouraged movement between jobs and discouraged efficient use of the housing stock. So any move to reduce its impact is going to get the thumbs up from me. So I'm supportive of Gordon Brown's decision to exempt houses worth less than £175,000 from Stamp Duty for the next twelve months. Like I support the shooting of one of the millions of grey squirrels that visit such destruction on our countryside. Its a move in the right direction, but so small as to be dramatically insignificant. And even then, it seems that the Government is trying to mislead us over the scale of the benefit. We're expected to believe that this little wheeze will cost £600 million is forgone tax - but this figure is based on a massive over-estimate of the number of properties that will be sold during the next year. With this lot, nothing is what they say it is. Shake hands and count your fingers is to be advised.

But of course boosting the housing market was never the purpose of a Stamp Duty cut. We all know that the basic problem suffocating the housing market is the inability to get a mortgage. This cut will do nothing about that. The purpose of yesterday's announcement was for the Prime Minister to look as if he was doing something to help. But the Government's 'expectation management' has been such a disaster that what was meant to be the relaunch of the Prime Minister turned out to be another hole beneath the water line of HMS Gordon Brown. They can't even do 'spin' anymore - despite having more 'spin doctors' than ever before in British history.

More than ever, I'm planning for a General Election next June. I know that everyone thinks it will be twelve months later. But I cannot believe that all those Labour MPs are just going to walk like mesmerised lemmings behind Gordon Brown, over the cliff into oblivion, without trying to do something about it. I think that Charles Clarke is speaking for plenty of others, when he in effect called for Brown to be replaced today. A botched relaunch and a lost by-election could open the floodgates. And any new leader will know that the sooner a General Election is called, the more blame for defeat will attach itself to the 'Clunking Fist'. Its clear to me that if Gordon Brown's relaunch is no more than this pathetic little Stamp Duty announcement, the next few weeks are going to be very interesting indeed.

I'm a Noel Gallagher fan

I like the Premiership, despite its brazen vulgarity and shady characters. Its like professional boxing used to be. When Clay beat Liston, the world stopped. Now it stops to tune into the Premiership. Its how most of the world's population defines Britain - second only to the Royal Family. But even by its normal standards of fantasy, the last day or two has seemed bonkers.

The only personal link I've had with this madness was that Mrs D and I dined at the excellent El Puerto's on Monday evening, sitting on the next table to Peter Ridsdale as he was resisting the six million that Stoke City were offering for Joe Ledley. He was glued to his mobile all night. That's big money for Cardiff City to spurn. Shows serious intent though. I reckon its the fear of finishing below Swansea that underpinned this rejection.

I was also feeling very pleased with myself when I first heard that Keegan had resigned. I'd predicted a few weeks ago that he'd the first managerial casualty of the season and was preening myself on my prescience. Seems I was wrong though, in that Curbishly has parted company with Iain Dale's West Ham today. I still predict a tearful Keegan resignation before the end of the season.

The maddest occurrence of all was the takeover of Manchester City by Sheik Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahyan of Abu Dhabi, the financial muscle behind Dr Al Sulaiman Al-Fahim of, who is likely to feature in our celebrity gossip columns from now on. Its been a long time since City fans have worn wider smiles that their United equivalents. This interview by Noel Gallagher is really worth listening to.

I'd always thought that he was a bit of an idiot, but No. He was incisive, reasoned and funny. If Gary Liniker retires, the BBC should bring him in as the replacement. His best line was
"It'll be nice to know that every gallon of petrol a Man United fan buys is going into our transfer kitty".
I also liked his obvious delight that the first thing the new owners had done was force Ferguson to pay a few more millions to Spurs for Dimitar Berbetov. There's going to be a rush on fuel efficient cars and bicycles in one half of Manchester from now on.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

The case for Huw Lewis

Mrs D used to love Huey Lewis, but that's nothing to do with this post. This is about Mr Huw Lewis, AM and his credentials to be elevated to the First Ministership of Wales. "What on earth has it got to do with him" are the words I hear arise from the bowels of the Welsh Labour Party. (Comment building on this biological theme will be disallowed). I concede that its a fair question. However I think its reasonable for this blog, as an observer of the Welsh political scene to examine the case for Mr Huw Lewis to become the 'Chosen One' - for movement into the First Minister's chair when it becomes vacant next year.

Now this observation has nothing to do with the merits or otherwise of said Huw. I'll leave this to others better placed to judge - and in any case its not relevant to this post. Its just that the elevation of Huw Lewis would bring some desperately needed uncertainty and unpredictability into the politics of Wales. Since sometime in the last century, Rhodri Morgan, Ieuan Wyn Jones, Nick Bourne and Mike German have led the four parties in the National Assembly - and Carwyn Jones has looked to me like the successor to Rhodri since the last century as well. How boring is that. If it wasn't for the determined efforts of His Lordship, the Presiding Officer to be off message and stir up controversy, there would have been nothing for the poor old journos to write.

Things are starting to stir though. It does finally look as if Peter Black (with help from others) has managed to prise open the grip that Mike German's fingers have had on the levers of Lib Dem power (if it can be so described), leaving nail scratches and teardrops all over the leader's desk as he's dragged away. Problem here is that he will be replaced by one of the two ladies who have been lying in wait in the long grasses of Cardiff Central and Brecon for what seems like 100 years. Simon Baynes taking over as President of the Montgomeryshire Society in London will be bigger news. And the Tories and Plaid Cymru show no sign whatsoever of satisfying the public thirst for a leadership dogfight. So the responsibility falls on someone, anyone from Labour to stir things up. This is where Huw Lewis comes in.

What we have at present is Rhodri Morgan touring Wales in his own version of the open top bus, as he winds down to retirement. We have Carwyn Jones and Andrew Davies stirring up apathy with no gusto at all, hoping that the crown will fall quietly into their laps. Welsh politics has gone to sleep. So come on Huw (or Leighton, or Edwina). Tell us what you think. Tell us that you have ambition. Give us a glimpse of the policy underwear that lurks beneath the loyalty cloaks you have shown us so far. Do this before the good ship 'Assembly' sinks completely out of the sight and conciousness of Welsh politics. Huw Lewis, this could be your time - but only if you have the courage to reach out for it.

Monday, September 01, 2008

My Campaign Strategy

I wish I'd thought of it this morning - at our Campaign Strategy Meeting. (We rather grandly refer to it as 'the CSM'). It would have been an interesting subject for debate. But this rather odd and random thought didn't posit itself in my brain until I read Janet Daley's piece in the Telegraph, as I was having a cappuccino in the Great Oak Cafe in Llanidloes this afternoon. It just chugged up and parked itself at the bus stop that is my mind. I intend to fight the next General Election as if I'm a London Red Double Decker. Before my Chairman decides that I've lost it completely, I should explain my thinking.

After the (in my opinion) excess and extravagance of the recent Olympic Games opening ceremony, we all wondered what London could do to match. And then in our 8 minutes at the closing ceremony we showed 'em. Brilliant. London is not going to match the flamboyance and waste. We simply sent in a 'Routemaster'. Solid, familiar, reliable, brilliant. And then there's Barack Obama. Glamorous and exotic. How could poor old bit boring John McCain compete. The Democrats Convention was a masterclass in presentation - apart from Hilary's 'chain gang' trouser suit. So McCain decides to tone down the show bizz, abandon all the psuedo celebration, and act like a serious politician who cares about the people of New Orleans. That was brilliant as well.

All this represents a lesson for me. The current holder of the office I will be competing for at the next General Election is a figure of very great celebrity. He is a man who may well have made more TV appearances than any other living politician - pound for pound that is. He's a sort of De Lorean of the car saleroom - the pink and yellow stretch limo of the highway. My plan is to do a Boris, and present myself as a London Red 'Routemaster'. 'Substance before style'. No pictures kissing babies or pulling faces for the camera. I wonder what our CSM will think of this.