Wednesday, December 31, 2008

In with the New

The New Year is usually a time for introspection. What are we hoping for? What are we going to do? Same for all of us. And there are several fronts on which this self-examination takes place. This post considers the political 'front' as we move into what I believe will be a General Election year. Tim Montgomerie on Conservativehome tells us that he's going to do his political introspection by drafting 'A Statement of Conservatism'. One of what he calls the components of this 'Statement' will be "Government should be as small as possible, but as large as necessary". This principle is one of the fundamentals of my personal view of what constitutes Conservatism.

So how does David Cameron's New Year Message measure up. Simon Heffer in today's Telegraph seems to be checking up on David as well - and offering advice in his own inimitable way. His article focuses on the issue of 'the size of the state' rather well. The line that caught my eye was

"It is inequitable, outrageous and economically suicidal for all of the burdens to be borne by the private and productive sector when the public and unproductive one is coming through the worst economic crisis for 70 years with just the odd bruise"

Anyway, back to the 'Message'. Here's an extract;

"...the modern Conservative vision is of responsible government and responsible business helping to build a responsible 21st century Britain - where social reform and decentralisation strengthen our society, where a stronger society reduces demands on the taxpayer, and where lower taxes, a less interfering bureaucratic state and green growth combine to produce a sustainable economy".

and another

"Where is morality in asking our children to pay off our debts ?.........Where is morality in encouraging people who have borrowed too much, to borrow a little more?"

I know its only a New Year's Message', but that presses all my buttons. I hope I won't be mocked as slavishly sycophantic, but I see the foundations of a winning, 'responsibility manifesto' taking shape before our eyes.

A Lesson for Councillors

I've just read that in 1974, Bramber Parish Council decide to switch off its street lights for three days as a cost saving measure. Following the experiment, the Council Chair issued a press release announcing to the taxpayers of Bramber that there had been a saving of £11.59 on the Council's electricity bill. At the following meeting the Council Treasurer informed Councillors that it had cost £18.48 to switch the lights off, and £12.00 to switch them back on again.

Beavers in Devon

Be very careful if you are visiting Lifton in Devon in the New Year. A local farmer, Mr Derek Gow is going to lay the most infernal of temptations in the path of every sweet toothed male in the land. He wants to catch a male 'on the loose'. The BBC warns us that he's been setting 'Honey traps' that have the scent of a female beaver. Last time I heard of a honey trap being used was when I was a teenager, with a big interest in boxing. A new loud-mouthed young heavyweight named Cassius Clay was carrying a big honey trap about his person, seeking to catch the World Champion, Sonny Liston, whom he referred to the 'Big Ugly Bear'. No-one gave Clay a chance of winning - but he did when the 'Bear' failed to emerge from his corner for round 8. It was one of the biggest shocks in boxing history, and launched the incredible career of the man who became Mohammad Ali. Anyway, back in Devon, it seems that an escapee male beaver, weighing in at about six stone, is wreaking havoc in the area, cutting down trees and making a thorough nuisance of himself. Strikes me there could be potential for this form of hunting as a popular country sport - without the controversy involved in fox hunting.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Who have Plaid Cymru selected to fight Segway Man?

As we enter what I believe will be General Election year, I need to take stock of who my opponents will be in Montgomeryshire. This morning I was talking to a 'noise' in local Plaid Cymru who told me that their candidate has now been selected, but strangely, wouldn't give me a name. Interesting tactic I thought. Perhaps it will be a shadowy Guido-like figure with no name - until he was eventually exposed. I'd been expecting David Thomas to run again. I'd like that because he's a thoroughly good man. I suppose David Senior could have another go. David is also a good man, but not speaking Welsh is a huge disadvantage - particularly since one of his opponents has gone to the trouble of learning. Maybe they've gone for someone just starting out - like Heledd Fychan, who works for Elfyn Llwyd and has strong Montgomeryshire roots. I don't know her, but I check up on her blog. She's one to watch I think. And then there have been rumours that Sian Lloyd will go for it. That would put the fox amongst the chickens, and guarantee that little ol' Montgomeryshire becomes a media-fest. Anyway if anyone knows who the Plaid mystery person is, comment anonymously so that I can assist a little with name recognition.

I've met the Labour candidate once, and he seemed an OK fellow, but he'll have to make a bit more effort to make himself known. Bruce Lawson will be surely be flying the flag for Ukip again. He's good company as well. Now you can see that there's not going to be too much ill feeling in Montgomeryshire on Election Day. Unless things are stirred up a bit by the BNP or an anti-Assembly 'independent'. All I'm doing is reporting the rumours.

And of course there's the incumbent, Lembit Opik, standing for the Lib Dems - though I keep hearing stories of him being deselected, or retiring to pursue a media career. Personally, I don't believe any of these rumours. In yesterday's Wales on Sunday, Martin Shipton ran a two-page spread under the heading 'Opik primed to bite back'. Apparently, he's decided that perhaps the distinctive way he does politics is 'frightening the horses', but he claims that its his way of 'creating a political stampede'. Anyway the report goes on to tell us that he's keen on a debate about legalisation of hard drugs, engaging with international terrorists (I should make clear that this in no way implies any support for terrorism. He threatened to sue Martin just for asking a question about the subject) and he wants the Liberal Democrats to stop sending out mixed messages on the economy. There was no mention of his latest part time employment as Political columnist for the Daily Sport. Whatever, he will be the man to beat come election time - which could be soon. So Plaid Cymru had best get its skates on and tell us who they have chosen if they are going to have any chance of catching the man on the Segway.

Living with Parkinson's Disease.

BBC Wales' Carl Yapp has published this story online about the wonderfully positive attitude taken by John and Sue Day towards the Parkinson's Disease from which they both suffer. They've become friends of mine since I became President of the Montgomeryshire group of the Parkinson's Disease Society. It must be very rare for a married couple to both suffer from the affliction. Even more unusually, John's brother and late father were also affected.
In the interview with Carl, both John and Sue are calling for a specialist nurse to be made available to fellow sufferers in Montgomeryshire. I note the Powys Local Health Board comment in the article claiming that supporting Parkinson's Disease sufferers is a "top priority'. Well, I'm pleased about that - but I'll believe it when something happens to justify such a statement. The reality is that (as usual) Montgomeryshire happens to be the place where its said to be difficult to provide a service.
At least there has been a bit of help for John and Sue, courtesy of a reader of my blog, who donated the fabulous sum of £10,000 to Parkinson's Disease Wales, on condition that £1,000 of it was spent in Montgomeryshire. So far about a half of the £1000 has been spent on sessions for local sufferers to learn to live with the impact of the Disease. I do need to check how the other £9,000 was spent - and report back.
There is a terrific group of supporters in Montgomeryshire. The officers of the group called in our office last week for a Christmas drink and mince pie - and to receive a cheque for £100 which we'd raised for them in a raffle. Left of photograph is Anne Smedley, Chair of the group, who is tireless in her support. No-one who receives honours tomorrow will deserve their recognition more than she would.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Gordon Brown - The Hammer of the Poor.

Warning! This is a partisan post, written under the influence of a dark mood. The cause of this darkness? I've just read this bilge from Mr Liam Byrne, Cabinet Office Minister. I do not know how he can bring himself to speak in such a way - and on a Sunday as well.

How will our children, and their children, look back on what's being done to their futures by the current Labour Government. Will history record the 'spin' or the reality. Will it describe Gordon Brown in the way he wishes to be remembered, or the way he deserves to be - as Britain's worst Prime Minister of modern times. Will he be remembered as the Chancellor/Prime Minister who spent and borrowed so much that he brought the British economy to its knees. Over the last day or two, some Bishops have used their pulpits to help open the eyes of the British people to what this man has done and would like to be allowed to carry on doing.

What's instigated the Bishops to speak out is the realisation that its the poor who are going to pay the heaviest price. He was found out when he abolished the 10p tax rate. But the leopard doesn't change his spots. Its still the poor he's going to target. He preferred an ineffective temporary cut in VAT, rather than help poorer people by raising the starting rate at which income tax is payable. And to recover the money this pointlessness will cost, he tells us he plans to raise National Insurance Contributions - a direct tax on jobs, which again is going to put more people on the dole. The Bishops have seen through him. It will not be long until everyone else, at least those with eyes willing to see, will do the same.

Its the hideous 'spin' that grates with me. The whole 45p tax rate issue is nothing to do with raising money for the Exchequer - but to make it appear that he's hitting the rich. It'll probably raise less money for the Treasury, rather than more. He witters on about tax credits, knowing full well that many of the most needy don't claim it because its too complex. He shouts at the banks to lend more to support business, but he knows the terms on which he has lent the money to them to re-capitalise are on terms so unfavourable that they will want to repay as soon as possible. Its all 'spin'. And worst of all, he's raising Government borrowing to levels never dreamt of before - and trying to put all the blame on others. No - even worse than any of this , is that the Prime Minister seems to believe what he says. Its terrifying.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

A war with no end in sight.

Its seems that much worse because its Christmas. No sooner have Christians the world over celebrated the birth of Christ, signalling hope for a better and more peaceful world than full blown hostilities break out in both Israel and the Gaza strip, close to the area where Christ was born. Actually, they broke out in Israel some time ago. There have been a series of rocket attacks on Israel from inside Gaza, which may not have killed many people - but have created so much fear that an Israeli military response became inevitable. I never believe even a half of what I hear reported on the news from conflict zones, but it does appear that hundreds have been killed in the Gaza strip by Israeli assaults. It also appears that many of the dead are non combatants. Its awful news made worse by its inevitability. And the worst aspect is that no-one seems to have any idea how to bring it to an end. No-one that is except President Ahmedinajad of Iran, who would sort the problem out by killing the entire population of Israel - or at least pushing them all into the sea. We knew there was a fair chance of this conflict flaring up before Channel 4 decided to give him a platform to deliver his 'Alternative Christmas Message' on Christmas Day - one of the most offensive actions by a media operator in the history of British TV.

Some responses have been predictable. I wonder at how anyone can take a view on such a complex issue with any certainty. US Secretary of State, Condeleezza Rice has called on Hamas to end the rocket assaults, and UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon has called on Israel to stop the 'disproportionate' assaults on Gaza. Some put the blame on Hamas, while others condemn the Israelis. And there's some of us who read of what's happening in a resigned way, not knowing what to think. We just want it to stop. In due course there will be a ceasefire. lets all pray that it is agreed soon. But we know it would only be until the next time, unless there is some long term agreement guaranteeing Israel's secure future. What an irony it would be if a democratic Iraq were able to play some part in bringing it about sometime in the future.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Nice and easy does it.

Front page of today's Western Mail, and First Minister in the National Assembly of Wales is out walking his dog, looking every inch a man already in retirement. Turn the page, and there he is sitting in his armchair in front of the fireplace at Michaelston-le-Pit, complete with Financial Times lying casually unopened on the floor. There's a mug within arm's reach, possibly containing a pre-nap Horlicks. Mr Rhodri Morgan is a picture of contentment. Who would ever have thought that Wales' GDP (or GVA) has fallen and carried on falling throughout his term as First Minister.

Apparently he's been thinking about what his Government can do to help Welsh business cope with the recession. He been telling Western Mail's Chief Reporter, Martin Shipton that his strategy is based on what he did in the Great Foot and Mouth Crisis of 2001. I wonder if he's planning to bury all the casualties in a great big hole on top of the Eppynt again. He thinks it will all turn out OK though, because "there will be Irish tourists popping over to Fishgaurd for the day". No problem - or at least there won't be as long as there is no turning off of money coming from the Treasury. His main worry seems to be that the Barnett Formula will not be reformed to give Wales more public money and that some of the money given to those now losing their jobs and becoming dependent on the state will come out of the funds currently given to Wales. Private sector - what private sector?

Its worth quoting Martin Shipton's reflections after his latest interview with Mr Morgan;

....Rhodri Morgan seems increasingly withdrawn from the hurly-burly of political controversy. He doesn't want to enter the AMs expenses row, and he certainly doesn't want to get involved in speculating about how the leadership contest to succeed him will pan out. Instead, he's happy to act the role of observer, not attempting to pretend that the world's economic problems will be solved in Wales - or even that Wales' economic problems will be solved from Wales....."

Oh, and before you go Martin, put that old recording of Wales winning the Grand Slam on again, and pass me the Horlicks.

A-hunting we will go - in record numbers.

Been down to Welshpool this morning to the traditional Boxing Day meet, outside the Royal Oak. I'd not been before 2005, when Parliament supposedly, and unwisely in my opinion banned hunting with dogs. I've been every year since, and so have many hundreds of others. The country past-time has never looked back. As always, the hounds were looking well. They have not been put down, as they would have been if the hunting ban had been as successful as had been intended by those who supported it. This thought provoking article in today's Telegraph, questions whether the Act has been effective. It also asks what seems to me will be a tough question for a future Conservative Government. Should we seek to repeal what is an increasingly ineffective law. We are committed to giving Parliament an opportunity to reconsider the ban. Personally, I feel that the current Act will have become so discredited in another year or so, that reopening the issue may not be the best option. We'll have to wait and see on this one.

There were 79 horses following the hounds today - a new record for the Tanatside. Severn Street was full of horse flesh - a truly impressive sight. Last year there were 59 horses, and we all thought that would take some beating. Encouragingly, there were lots of young people there today. The future of hunting looked extremely rosy.

I suppose there's a case for claiming there were 80 horses today - but this little fellow didn't follow the hounds. He wouldn't have been able to keep up, and anyway, he's probably afraid of foxes.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Planning for 2009

Twixt Christmas Day and New Year's Day is the time to make plans for the approaching year. This does not include 'family' issues, where planning isn't calender-confined. It would be very nice if one of them favoured us with another grandchild though - but out of my control. I'm thinking more 'politics', the farm and 'gardening'. This year the big 'politics' plan is already in place. I've not wavered from my expectation that a General Election will be held in June. And I'm set on a course to retire from active farming next year. So the planning over the next few days will be confined to how the garden might grow in 2009. I spent an hour or so today on pre-planning. While out there, I was struck by the colour of the witch hazels. There are lots of varieties, but my favourite is the lemon yellow 'Pallida' - probably the most commonly grown Hammamelis of all. We've a few dotted about. I've include a photo - and another of the orange witch hazel that we also grow a few of. On a gloomy Christmas Day its the 'Pallida' that stands out.


Wednesday, December 24, 2008


Life is often not fair. Some of us are born lucky - with a nice-looking face, a good body and of generally attractive appearance. But Wilbur is scrawny, has a misshapen body and suffers from a pronounced limp. There's no gentle way of putting it. Wilbur is ugly.

And its awful to always be the one that is never picked. When I was a young farmer, country boys went to dances and chose from the array of females sitting around the outside of the dance floor. These days, I daresay the females do the choosing. Occasionally the top choice had to be rejected because there was insufficient petrol in the van. No use offering to see a lady home if she lived outside the range of the fuel gauge. It must have been awful to be the one never picked, never offered a lift home. Just as it must have been sad to be the only one who never managed to 'pull' at all. This is exactly what happened to Wilbur. He was not 'picked' by anyone.

Sometimes the Wilburs of this world have the last laugh. The Wilbur in this story was a Norfolk Black turkey, who had spent his early years on a 'pick-your-own-turkey' farm in Totnes, Devon. All 49 of his 9 month old mates have been 'picked' during the run-up to Christmas, and taken away with the promise of specially 'dressed' for Christmas Day - leaving poor old Wilbur on his own - rejected. His owner, Peter Hayford, Chairman of Turkey Club UK has now decided that he will become a pet, and in future will be allowed to roam free on the farm amongst the cattle, ducks and geese. Wilbur will become 'one-of-the-family' and will live out the rest of his days in a happy and peaceful environment.

So on this Christmas Eve, don't be despondent if you are no oil painting, or you feel that you are being left out, or the world is not being fair to you. Pour yourself another glass and think of Wilbur - and where his 49 mates are now. And have a very happy Christmas.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

This could be a 'minority interest' post, but it should be significant for any Powys County Councillor who cares about our wondrous landscape. Regular readers will know of my scepticism about onshore wind as a renewable energy resource - particularly on a large scale. Unfortunately, the Assembly Government has decided to ignore my advice and has given a bright green light to the 'industrialisation' of much of the uplands of rural Wales. As a democrat, I accept this - even if I don't like it. But what I cannot accept is that it should proceed in a way which greatly increases the environmental desecration.

I'm referring to the haphazard granting of planning consents for wind farms, with no regard for how they are to be connected to the National Grid. This is ridiculous. "What about the bl***y pylons" has for so long been my plaintive cry. What happens at present is that a developer seeks planning consent for the wind farm, but makes a separate approach to a power supplier for a connection to the Grid - which the power company is statutorily obliged to provide. So when Celtpower Ltd seeks consent to triple the output from Llandinam wind farm in Montgomeryshire, Scottish Power are obliged to provide a 132 kv cable all the way to Welshpool, upsetting a lot of people living near the village of Kerry. The reason this is madness is that National Grid is going to build a 400 kv cable from Shropshire to a 'hub' somewhere in the Carno area (the horror of this makes me shake with despair) - which would be the natural connection point for the Llandinam wind farm, leaving Kerry out of the loop altogether. But this cable isn't going to be built until 2015.

But I have news for the developers. Last week, 'concerned of Kerry' objected to the Llandinam wind farm because of the impact of the cable. And the reply received from the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) was very interesting indeed. It read thus;

".......Should the relevant Planning Authority (RPA), Powys County Council object, then the Secretary of State will be obliged to call for a public inquiry to be held into the application......If the Secretary of State does call for a public inquiry to be held, he will issue in advance a statement of the matters which seem to him relevant to his consideration of the application. The views of those objecting will be taken into account, together with all relevant factors, in identifying these matters."

Now that makes sense. The public inquiry will be just the occasion to thrash out the madness that is being visited on the glorious uplands of Wales by these turbine inspired Philistines. Over to you County Councillors.

Putting the record straight - ish.

I'm not gay. Never been even a flicker of interest in that direction. When I was young I thought there was something wrong with gays - men in particular. I think most of my contemporaries thought the same in those days. When I became an adult and thought about these things, I accepted that some people are just made that way - and so what. So like most people I was quite shocked to hear it reported today that the Pope has declared homosexuality to be a greater threat to humanity than destruction of the rain forests.

One reason this interested me is that my regard for the Catholic Church has risen over recent years. In particular, I think that the Church of Rome takes the sanctity of human life rather more seriously than other religions. This sense within me grew during passage of the Human Fertilization and Embryology Bill through the House of Commons earlier this year. And one of our sons has recently married a Catholic girl as well - so there's now a family interest in the Catholic Church.

Which brings me to the point I want to post on tonight. Not surprisingly, fellow blogger, Iain Dale, (and many others) has taken great exception to what the Pope is reported to have said. I read some of the comments on his blog post, which included some from Greg, who sought to defend the Pope. The gist of Greg's interpretation of the Holy Father's words were that they were about the sanctity of the human body, and that sex should be an act of creation within marriage - an aspiration which is beyond most human beings, who are, of course, imperfect. In the interests of balance, I thought it was worth repeating the only part of the Pope's speech which referred to rain forests.

"But in so doing, (abusing the sanctity of the human body) the human being lives against the truth, and against the Spirit creator. Rain forests deserve, yes, our protection, but the human being - as a creature which contains a message that is not in contradiction with his freedom, but is the condition of his freedom, does not deserve it less"

Its still out of touch with the way many humans choose to live their lives today. It may be very idealistic, and divorced from reality, but it does not appear to be as blatantly homophobic as has been generally interpreted.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Agreeing with his Lordship - again.

I can never understand why there's excitement when a politician states what is blindingly obvious. I'm just catching up on today's papers, and the Western Mail is making a big deal of Lord Elis Thomas' opinion that there should not be a referendum on law making powers for the National Assembly until after the next Assembly election. There's less chance of this happening than there is of Brynle Williams winning the next series of Strictly Come Dancing. And that's how its been for the last twelve months. When the Plaid Cymru/Labour Coalition was created, I did think for a few short months that it was on, but rampant inertia gripped the preparation process almost from the start, and killed the idea stone dead. The only thing left to decide is who knew this was a stitch-up from the start - or was it just Plaid activists who were stitched up? Whatever, and not for the first time, I agree with Dafydd El. A pre-2011 referendum can now be declared a deceased duck.

I also agree with the Presiding Officer than there should be a big opinion poll lead for law making powers before any referendum is held. Since I accepted the wafer-thin result in favour of establishing a National Assembly in the 1997 referendum, I have supported the case for full law making powers in devolved subject areas - but only if the people of Wales are genuinely in support. At present I see support for granting more power to the Assembly as going backwards. Since the last Assembly Election, there has been a shocking lack of leadership, as Rhodri Morgan freewheels ever so gently to that great political resting place, somewhere on the Cardigan Bay coast. And his likely successor, Carwyn Jones shows all the dynamism of a three-toed sloth after a good lunch. And badly handled publication of AMs salary increases and allowances have brought public opprobrium down upon the heads of the National Assembly in a way which makes it a real effort for anyone to link the word Yes with anything to do with politics.

So David Davies' No campaign can take a break. There's nothing else for it but to make the Legislative Competence Order system work. I'm in need of another day in the Assembly, talking through how its working out. My eyes may be set on a seat in the Palace of Westminster after the next General Election, but I have said that one of the main reasons I want to be a Member of Parliament is to do what I can to make this ridiculous system work. Looks like there's going to be plenty to do.

The Art of Self Promotion.

Today, I set about generating publicity. I thought it was a really worthwhile cause. I took no more than a bit part role. I suppose I'll have to take this sort of thing more seriously as we build up to a General Election. Tonight, when I read my favorite blogs, I realised just how much I still have to learn.

This morning, at our Conservative Christmas do in the office, someone asked me whether our local Montgomeryshire MP was going to be appearing in Celebrity Big Brother next year. "No idea", said I, and "I cannot understand why people are talking about this". Well, I know now. It seems that the aforementioned MP is ringing up newspapers to tell them that he might be taking part, and is encouraging them to run speculative 'Will he-Won't he' stories. Looks as if he's trying to create a situation where he can announce that he's not going to do it because he wants to be regarded as a serious politician. Same thing happened a few months back. The News of the World ran the speculative story that he was going to appear in a celebrity reality TV programme, which was then denied with great fanfare, because of a commitment to being serious. Our local newspaper actually ran a 'reader's poll' to advise him whether he should take part or not. Must admit I always suspected it was the MP, himself who tipped off the newspaper in the first place.

Anyway, this time the ruse has been sussed. We're indebted to Matt Withers for this bit of information. Perhaps newspapers won't be so easily reeled in this time. I wonder whether there will be another 'reader's poll' . There did seem to be some sort of testing of opinion going on over the mince pies in our office this morning. I didn't stay for the result.

Tokyo? - or rural Wales

I recall falling into debate with the Local Highway Authority in Powys some year's ago concerning a request from a Newtown business to take over the maintenance of the roundabout from which access is gained to Powys College. The sign was to be made of wood and about 24 inches by 12 inches. I saw it, and it was a very tasteful sign. It was refused because it might prove to be a distraction to motorists.

Well, I took a photograph at the same location today. (You can see the aforementioned roundabout, top left). I really don't think I need to say much - except that one of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales' concerns is the growth of unnecessary 'clutter' which disfigures the beautiful countryside of rural Wales.

Kevin's Story

I suppose this could be called a 'promotional' post, on behalf of the Department of Work and Pensions. Its about an initiative called 'Employ Ability' - a scheme to provide meaningful employment for those who suffer from a long term disability of some sort. I'll even include the web site -

Kevin Gordon works for Makefast Ltd, in Newtown Montgomeryshire. He lost the sight of his left eye when he was a teenager. So when he was diagnosed with angioid streaks in his right eye, he knew he would not be able to carry on working as a press setter.

Now, Kevin has over 20 years experience, and Makefast managers didn't want to lose him. So they promoted him to a role where he helps other colleagues develop their skills. They also purchased a range of magnifiers and other equipment to help Kevin do his job. Makefast's Ltd's production engineer and Manager, Mike Mills (who is well known in Montgomeryshire circles because of his public work in the town of Montgomery) says

"Kevin is a long term employee who has years of experience that we did not want to throw away"

The DWP have used Kevin's Story as part of its national promotion of 'Employ Ability'. I've published it on my blog, hoping that Montgomeryshire's local newspapers will give publicity to it.

My comment is that "I'm proud that a Montgomeryshire business has made such a thoughtful and constructive response to a long term health problem of one of its valued workers. I hope that the publicity that this has generated will inspire other businesses to take the same enlightened approach if confronted with similar circumstances.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Segway support.

At least Brecon and Radnorshire Lib Dem MP, Roger Williams looks after his fellow Welsh MPs. Well, one of them anyway. According to Spin Doctor in today's Wales on Sunday he's ridden to the rescue of Ceredigion MP, Mark Williams, who has recently been described as one of the most anonymous MPs in Parliament by a national newspaper. The cause of Roger's gallantry was an attack on Mark's Plaid Cymru Parliamentary opponent, Penri James, with whom I took dinner some weeks ago at Aberystwyth. He seemed a reasonable enough fellow to me. Anyway, Penri is supposed to have accused Mark of doing nothing to resist local Post Office closures except issue "the usual 'horrified, annoyed, angry, dismayed' type of press release". Doesn't seem that bad to me, in the cut and thrust of political fray. But Roger has written, demanding a full public apology. To be fair, Roger knows that Mark did more than that. At least he stayed at Westminster for the vote to suspend the closure programme earlier in the year, while Roger and his Montgomeryshire colleague just b*****ed off back to Wales without even arranging a 'pair'.

Spin Doctor also informs us of another opportunity for Roger to offer support to a Welsh colleague - who has tabled two Early Day Motions concerning the Segway personal transporter. It's reported that not a single MP has signed up to either of them. Where are you Roger in his hour of need.


The long term strategy in developing our garden is for it to become easy to manage. A key component of this is the bamboo. We grow lots of varieties and I've selected four for this post. The first is my favourite, because it is so impressive (about 12 feet tall) and non-invasive. I think its a Chusquea, but I'm not sure. If anyone knows, let me know in comments. This plant is easy to divide, by splitting off pieces - but needs a strong spade with a sharp edge. In front is a Pleioblastus, a short bamboo which is much more yellow that appears in this photograph, and shows best colour by cutting off at ground level in the spring.

This bamboo is one of the most commonly grown of all bamboos today - and often planted in totally unsuitable locations, because of its size. Not only does it grow to around 15 feet, but its habit is to lean outwards. Its a Phyllostachys 'nigra', popularly known as the 'Black Bamboo'. This genus is also easy to divide with a strong spade - so we have lots of it in the garden. I trim off most of the side shoots preventing it casting too much of a shadow and showing off its black stems. It takes its place well, growing between the 8 foot high stones in the 'Celtic circle'.

Another commonly grown Phyllostachys, which also needs a lot of room. Again I trim off the side shoots (when I get around to it) because it shows off the colour of the stems. This is the bamboo which supplies our own runner bean canes. We use some bamboos alongside paths. The mulcher stops them spreading onto the path , and there is no need for any weeding whatsoever. In some parts of the garden, where bamboos are planted both sides, there is a real 'jungly' atmosphere. Be no surprise to see monkeys appearing if climate change raises our temperature much more.

Will it ever end?

Another day, another blistering attack on Nick Bourne's leadership of the Conservative Group in the National Assembly. The Welsh media are on a feeding frenzy. Today, its Matt Withers in the Wales on Sunday. Hopefully we can have a break from all this over Christmas, and see knives used on the turkey instead. But since the Assembly Group haven't even met to discuss the allowances issue yet, the whole circus is likely to start up again on the first week the Assembly is back in session next year.

Yesterday's coverage of what's being called 'iPodgate' in the Western Mail was based on of the opinions of Monmouth MP, David Davies, who was an AM himself for 8 years. What he was reported as saying was sensible - and what I would expect Sir Roger Jones' Committee to recommend when it reports in 2009.

The first suggestion that David argued for is a 'fixed amount' to be allowed for Assembly Members to pay for 'second homes' - but only for those who live too far away from Cardiff Bay to commute. Actually, this is not much different, in principle, from the current position, except that most people think AMs living too close to Cardiff qualify for the allowance. And of course there's the tricky business of agreeing what is a reasonable 'fixed amount'.

David Davies also calls for 'stricter rules' on what is eligible to be claimed as an office expense. This will inevitably form part of Sir Roger's Committee recommendations, and is sensible. But I don't think this will be as effective a control as publication of the details. The current hoo-hah will see to that. A question worth asking is whether the restrictions, the need for receipts and the publication regime should apply to MPs as well. Personally, I'd like to see MPs following the Assembly's requirements on a voluntary basis. That could be done tomorrow.

Friday, December 19, 2008

No blogging tonight

Sorry, but Berriew YFC have asked me to stand-in at the last minute as after dinner speaker at their annual Christmas Dinner/Dance in the village tonight - so will not be able to blog. I do have an hour to spare now, but I'd better give some thought to what I'm going to say. Its always tough speaking at a do in your own village - and I know from my recent judging of the County public speaking competition that Berriew have at least eight members who are outstanding public speakers. So any comment about iPods and wind farms must wait - which is probably a good thing. The former would probably be best left uncommented upon anyway, and you're probably a bit sick of the latter.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Conflict of Interest?

I'm fairly sure that the Executive Board of Powys County Council has resolved to work with a Carbon Trust Enterprise Subsidiary named 'Partnership for Renewables' to investigate the feasibility of using Council land to site groups of up to five wind turbines. These turbines would be up to 135 metres high and the summary of the report agreed by the Board referred mostly to the money that would accrue to the Council's coffers - £25,000-£35,000 per turbine. No, I have not added an extra nought.

Interestingly, the reason given for the Board decision makes no reference to money at all. I'm also fairly sure that the Board has agreed to sign a Non Disclosure/Confidentiality Agreement. The reason given for the decision is as follows;

To meet Sustainability and Energy policy in lowering Carbon Dioxide emissions and create an example to the wider community in creating new sources of renewable energy

Now if any Councillors make 'in principle' comments either in favour of or against wind turbines, they are banned from the planning decision making process. Something not quite right here.

Links between tragedy and comedy.

Sometimes you just have to laugh in the face of tragedy - or at least the unfunny. I nearly always laugh at the sketch when the coffin bursts out of the tailgate of the hearse as it struggles up a steep incline - landing on some form of strategically placed transport which conveys the freewheeling corpse off down the hill with mourners in wild pursuit. And I laughed when I rang my medical insurance company to check my cover on the day I was diagnosed with colorectal cancer - and was told I qualified for a £100 M & S voucher. At the time I asked whether M&S sold wreathes. It now seems that that might even have qualified as an office expense!! And then there was the terrible accident in an old fashioned Australian 'dunny' when too vigorous a pull on the chain brought the cast iron cistern down on the poor fellow's head with fatal consequences.

There was just such a story in yesterday's Telegraph. Mr Wang Diange was found dead in the wreckage of his house in the province of Inner Mongolia. Such was the damage that the investigating authorities concluded that it could only have been caused by lightning. Anyway, when Mr Wang's body was entering the crematorium chamber, it blew up, bursting the doors off the oven, and causing much damage to the building. Gave the mourners a fright as well. Further investigations revealed that it wasn't lightening after all.

What had happened was that the regional weather bureau had fired a series of weather rockets into the air with the intention of breaking up hailstones to protect the local tobacco crop. But it seems that one or more shells had failed to explode and had dropped back to earth, landing smack on top of Mr Wang's house. In fact one shell had lodged itself in his body, which was so damaged that it passed unnoticed - until the heat of the crematorium chamber caused it to explode. Three years later, Mr Wang's family have received £8,000 compensation from the weather bureau.

And I read in today's Telegraph that in New York, the State Government is about to introduce an iPod tax. You just couldn't make some of these things up.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Government Minister in the dark.

Today's major news is the shock increase in unemployment, despite the best efforts of the Prime Minister to divert our attention from this by announcing a date when our armed forces will leave Iraq. The number of people out of work rose by 137,000 to 1.83 million in the 3 months to October. These figures will have surprised none of us who have been talking to businesses over recent weeks. But it seems that they have come as a great surprise to the Government. I listened to Government Minister, Tony McNulty on Newsnight tonight. For much of the time, he didn't seem to know what he was talking about - and not for the first time..

Mr McNulty said that he'd been expecting an increase of around 35,000 to 50,00. Then he was asked why the Government has announced that it intends to raise taxes on business, which is where new jobs will eventually come from. His answer was so meaningless that I cannot remember it. He also told us that the Government is going to look at all those people on Incapacity Benefit, and force around one million of them to find a job. He didn't tell us where these jobs were coming from - because it was obvious Mr McNulty had no idea. However he was very keen to make political points against the Conservatives. Mr McNulty has a reputation for being very good at this.

And then we had a businessman on to ask questions of him. What he wanted was for people from a programme called Dragon's Den and himself to be asked to guide the Government. He also wanted the Conservatives to abandon opposition and give uncritical support to the Government. In particular there should be an end to bickering. All this was supposed to inform viewers of what today's figures mean. Ah well.

Chwarae Teg Ieuan.

County Councillor for Llanfyllin, Peter Lewis has been on the phone tonight. We're speaking a lot at the moment, following the shocking news about job losses at Stadco Powys. As soon as Peter learned of this disastrous news for the town, we agreed that I would arrange to have a letter delivered to the office of Ieuan Wyn Jones in Cardiff Bay, and that Peter would email him. We wanted to impress upon him the importance of a quick and decisive Assembly Government response. This was on Monday. Well on Tuesday morning, an officer of the Government joined us at our meeting with the company bosses. And today, Peter has received an email from the deputy First Minister's office promising to contact him in January to arrange a date. I can do no other than comment thus "Chwarae teg Ieuan, a Diolch". I wonder whether I should have mutated the word 'Diolch'.

I did think twice about posting such a positive comment about a Plaid Cymru politician. A few minutes ago google alerts, which lets me know if my name appears on any other blogs, informed me that on one fellow blogger's site, my blog is known as 'A Nationalist Tory named Glyn', rather than 'A View from Rural Wales'. I'm not sure that I like this, but I have been called worse.

Western Mail Despair.

Been Christmas shopping today - so didn't read the Western Mail until this afternoon, when I stopped for coffee. Wish I hadn't bought it. Its the most despairing issue I've read for a long time. The front page made me spill my cappuccino, given over completely to an editorial that Nick Bourne should go. I don't think I can bring myself to make any further comment on this stuff. Hugely important to me, but the danger of being misread is too great.

Page two and three are just as bad. I was appalled to read of politicians attacking individual AMs of opposing parties. This is nuts. I regret making a negative comment about an AM claiming for a wreath on expenses on my blog. Wish I hadn't. I accept that it was my opinion, but I don't think any political party should be throwing stones at others - just answering for themselves. Today's attacks are directed at Labour AMs, Andrew Davies and Alun Davies. Alun's asked for it of course, because he's been putting himself up to attack Nick. This sort of behaviour will come back to bite him - hard I hope. But I really cannot see anything amiss with what Alun has supposedly done.

At least there will be long-term benefits flowing from all this. Firstly it will introduce a super-prudent approach to expense claiming by politicians (in Wales anyway). When the expense claims that are the subject of today's furore were claimed, it was not thought they would be made public. The searchlight thrown by media examination will prove an effective astringent. And secondly, I cannot see anyone opposing the recommendations which Sir Roger Jones' committee will make about what is an acceptable expenses regime. We should reach a position where the public know and approve of what expenses are available to AMs. And hopefully, we'll never see another edition of the Western Mail like today's.

Rules of the Jungle.

I've always been in favour of politicians flexing their muscles. I've long thought that thrusting ambition is undervalued. Without its dynamism and the fluidity it spawns, politics becomes sclerotic and boring and out of touch. Lets compare politics with the jungle's rules that have enabled the lion to remain king. The head of the pride has to prove his strength on an annual basis. If his power wanes when the season is upon him, he is replaced by a more vibrant and hungry rival. Or he faces down his rival and claims the lionesses favours once again. And this is all done against a background of absolute commitment to the pride. That's why lions dominate the animal kingdom.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Economic Meltdown 2

Met senior managers at Stadco Powys this morning to discuss their plans. I was there to support local councillor, Peter Lewis, and to represent Nick Bourne, who represents the area as a regional AM. I have a very personal, historical attachment to Stadco as well.

Stadco Powys have been forced into a review of their business - which is making car parts. The company has been faced with no option but to review, and the Llanfyllin plant is taking a lot of the pain, as work currently based there is to be transferred to Shrewsbury. A 90 day consultation process will begin on 12th January on Stadco's proposal to make 106 0f the 153 strong workforce redundant. This is a disaster for Llanfyllin.

The National Assembly were also present at this morning's meeting, and I'm pleased that there is a will to look carefully at what help can be given. Though there is an air of certainty about the announcement, we have to retain some hope. But my greatest fear is not currently proposed. The company appear committed to retaining the much-reduced presence in Llanfyllin. While the Stadco presence remains, there must be belief that economic recovery will allow the base to expand again in the future.

One final hopeful factor in today's discussions was the possibility of relocating some of the workforce, along with the work to Shrewsbury. Too early for any final conclusions. Today's group plan to hold another meeting in a few weeks time to review progress.

When ITV Wales interviewed me about this, Kevin asked me how I felt about it. I suspect they knew my historical involvement. Well I feel sad about it. Through the 80s and early 90s, I lived and breathed promoting economic development in Mid Wales, and there was a family of businesses which were the foundation of our economic strategy - and Stadco was one of them. At least its going to stay alive, even against the backdrop of today's devastating news.

Put those lights out.

Edna Mopbucket has always loved the traditions of Christmas. More than anything she loves Christmas tree lights. Every year one of her favourite jobs is the annual pre-Christmas clean up after the staff party at Powys Council Offices at Llandrindod Wells. But this year it was so different. She rang me late last night very upset and in a state of shock. This is what had happened.

Edna thought she was all alone. She'd done an hours cleaning, and was taking a break. Mistletoe in her buttonhole. Told me that she'd been hoping to bump into Councillor Bob Mills, or the verrrry handsome new Tory Councillor, Aled Davies. She'd helped herself to one of several part bottles of bubbly she'd found stashed away in the offices, and was just leaning back in contemplative mood watching the tree lights twinkle and dance. Later she would sit in the Chief Executive's chair and dream. Life didn't get much better than this for Edna, the humble cleaner.

And then she heard this strange sound reverberating through the building. At first she thought it was an animal on the loose, rampaging through the offices, roaring like a Titi monkey. It got closer. Then the door burst open, and in strode a tall, handsome, balding, muscular figure who looked the spitting image of the Chief Executive. The eyes were on fire, and he was screaming something like "I'm a sea captain, a man of action. They will do as I say. This is war. We must not let them win. Put those lights out. Christmas is cancelled." He was crashing around with a club, smashing all the Christmas tree lights to smithereens. After he'd gone Edna just sat there quietly in the dark, before ringing me to tell her of such strange goings on.

I was inclined to put the call down to post bubbly rambling - until I read the email that Mark Kerr, the Chief Executive had sent to all staff. It reads;

"I know that lots of you will have erected Christmas trees in the office to mark the festive season. It is always cheering to see these and other Christmas decorations, and I have no wish to limit people's enjoyment of is inappropriate for us to draw from the same electricity supply as the street lights to light up our Christmas trees. Could I ask you therefore not to light up your Christmas trees from the main electricity supply in your offices, except during special occasions such as 'Secret Santa' events."

Now I'm wondering what goes on at these 'Secret Santa' events which take place in County Hall !!

Monday, December 15, 2008

I'm Still Backing Bourne

Yesterday, the Western Mail's splendid David Williamson rang me to ask what I thought of Carwyn Jones' speech as he makes his move towards the 'Unionist' wing of the Labour Party. At the time, my mobile was off. I was dressed up as Santa Claus, racing around Newtown with little Ffion. No harm in ringing him back thought I. I would have said that I thought it was an acceptance by Carwyn that Huw Lewis is his greatest threat, and he was shoring up one of his vulnerable flanks. But by the time I'd returned David's call, he had interviewed Nick Bourne about the leadership of the Conservative group in the National Assembly, and asked my opinion on that instead. Now it was time for me to tread carefully, very carefully indeed.

First question was whether I thought Nick should remain leader of the group. No beating about the bush. On reflection, my answer, accurately reported in today's Western Mail is ridiculous. I said that I hoped that Nick would remain as leader until 2011. This does not make sense. No leader can fight an election on the basis that he is going to stand down after it. No, my answer must mean 'until at least 2011.' I also said that when it eventually reaches time to hold a leadership election, it would be healthy for the party if the very talented Conservative AMs elected in 2007 had greater experience, giving more choice to party members. Hopefully, reputation for safe hands intact.

And then David asked me what I thought of the furore over AMs expenses. An absolute b****y disaster is what I think. OK, so its causing some discomfort to my party at the moment, but its a cross party issue and has dealt a long-term crushing blow to the public's perception of the National Assembly. Its a personal opinion, but I thought the decision to publish the expenses on the day after the AMs had left Cardiff Bay on recess was a monumental mistake. As was the decision not to face the media to justify claims on taxpayer's money when the expenses were released. Transparency is a difficult and temperamental lady to manage - but manage her we must. Welsh democracy has paid a heavy price for not trying.

This was a general all-party point. But David wasn't letting me slip the hook so easily. He wanted to know how I thought the Conservative Party should respond to the focus there has been on us. Perhaps I'm wearing my partisan spectacles, but I do think this has lacked a bit of balance. Again I'm not at all sure that others share my view of this, but I do think there should be serious conference of senior party figures to develop a rebuttal strategy in an attempt to counter the current depressing negativity. The most damaging of issues fade over time, and its a long time until AMs are back. Personally, the idea of returning to these issues in the New Year is a depressing prospect.

Economic Meltdown

Almost 20 years ago, I was stuck in a queue in Llanfyllin, with a load of fat lambs in my landrover trailer. The farmers of Montgomeryshire wanted to sell thousands of them on the same day - and the town's little livestock market couldn't handle them all at the same time. So latecomers had to wait until some pens were sold and loaded into lorries before we could unload. Anyway, I was a board member of the DBRW at the time, and decided to use my time considering how the layout of Llanfyllin could be redesigned. Another factor in this equation was that a hugely successful local company, Saltofix, had outgrown its site in the town. Incredibly, the back-of-envelope plan I drew that day appealed to the Chief Executive of my Board, and the chief officers of the Montgomeryshire Council, of which I was the then Chairman. We set up what was known as the North Montgomeryshire Group, which presented this back-of-envelope plan, transformed into something more professional and glossy - and incredibly it eventually came to pass.

Now I mention all this by way of historical background, because the plans involved a new bespoke factory for Saltofix, which is known today as Stadco Powys. Over the weekend I learned that that on Friday the company had informed staff that it plans to make 106 of its 153 workers redundant in the New Year - though not before March. It became public today. In Llanfyllin this is a truly massive blow. It is economic meltdown for the town of Llanfyllin. The workers and everyone else will be in shock as the impact of this news sinks in.

Local councillor, Peter Lewis has asked me to join him tomorrow morning at a private meeting with the company at 9.30. I understand that the WDA will also be at the meeting. It will be an opportunity for us to learn in accurate detail what is happening, and for us to tell the company of our support and desire that as many jobs as possible are retained in Llanfyllin. It is particularly important that a plant remains active so that there's a presence in the town on which to rebuild when the current economic crisis is over.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Lloyd George's Women

Blog No 3 tonight. Ffion Hague was in Montgomeryshire this afternoon. She's probably in Montgomeryshire quite often, because this was her home. Anyway today she was at the home of Ieuan and Penny Jones, near Mathrafal, Pontrobert to tell us about her new book 'The Pain and the Privilege' - a book about the women in the life of David Lloyd George. Mrs D had to give me one of my Christmas presents early, because I may easily have bought a second copy - and she wanted Ffion to have signed it. She gave an entertaining and informed talk. When she stopped and asked for any questions, I was in a state of deep contemplation. It seems that the almost all of Lloyd George's Cabinet colleagues were at it, and their wives.

As often happens no-one wanted to ask the first question. I was sitting in the front row so I just started things off - along the lines of;

"At the next General Election, I will be hoping to become an MP, but after hearing about the way in which the entire Cabinet seemed to spend their time, I'm not at all sure that I'm up t0 it."

I will postulate that one reason politicians are not so obsessed with sex today is that its become fashionable to follow a football team. And neurologists at Southern General Hospital in Glasgow have discovered that watching a goal being scored is every bit as arousing as having sex. Clinical Scientist, John McLean of the Institute of Neurological Sciences said "Our results show that the part of the brain associated with intense pleasure, and which has been associated with arousal, is most active at the time a goal is scored." Results of research show that activity in the Anterier Cingulate Cortex (ACC) of the brain was substantially higher when a goal was scored than when chances were missed or in open play. It seems that its this ACC which goes into overdrive during the sexual act. The research was carried out on Rangers season ticket holders. I'm just wondering what sort of condition Rangers fans would be in after a four all draw in the 'Old Firm Derby'!!

Anyway Ffion reassured us that rabid promiscuity isn't compulsory. She also thought that Lloyd George would have abstained from roaming under the gaze of today's prurient media. One final point worth noting is that on his release from hospital well into his sixties, after an operation concerning prostate cancer, Lloyd George's surgeon was forced to make a plea with the randy old Celt that he should restrain himself to as near abstinence as possible for a week or two - and added that if he was tempted, that he should stick a tried and tested partner to avoid over-exciting himself. He was clearly an animal - and all his women loved him for it. I'm looking forwards to reading the book after Christmas.

Santa Run

Second post tonight. This morning I competed in the Newtown Santa Run. This has returned to being more of a 'local' fun event, with between 400-500 Santas running - as opposed to the highly professional event it became a few years ago when it broke the world record, with several thousand Santas running. Its become a bit of a family event for us and there were seven of the Davies clan home from all corners and out today for the 4 mile plus course. No 3 son, Tim has obviously been in secret training, and romped home in just 25 minutes, which matches my best time of a few years ago. I pushed little Ffion around again this year. She was the youngest ever entrant when I did the same thing last year, she being just 8 weeks old at the time. We weren't looking for any media coverage, but my local weekly's photographer was there at the finish, and Fi and I posed with the Mayor and Deputy. So could be a pic in the County Times. Eb and Karen, Fi's parents would really like that - and I wouldn't mind.

Speaking of looking for media coverage, Lembit Opik did the Santa Run on has Segway. I didn't actually notice the huge neon-lit sign on his forehead shouting "I want to be noticed". I'm told that when he motored down the home straight, the crowds on both side didn't clap or cheer at all. I don't think I can repeat what I heard some fellow runners say about this - but I will say that I'm pleased Ffion's vocabulary is still very limited.

A good word for local Assembly Member, Mick Bates though. He's always been a great supporter of the Santa Run, and he ran today - not many months after having a new hip. He had to take it easy, so we'd gone home before he made the finish. I'd like to have cheered him home, so this blog offers him warm congratulations tonight.

Being incorrect in church

Been missing for a while. Too much on. So blogfest coming. Last night, I sung along with a chuchfull of carollers at Welshpool's St Mary's. It was the 17th Welshpool Fire Station Carol Service. Just before going, I'd read in the Telegraph that Christmas carols are being corrected by clergy to make them more "modern and inclusive". It seems that Twelve Days of Christmas has been rewritten to include Aids victims, drug addicts and hoodies. Other churchgoers will not sing 'all in white' during Once in Royal David's City. And one clergyman has removed the word 'virgin' from God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. I believed all this until I couldn't find the word 'virgin' in there anywhere.

I was surprised that the last carol hadn't been changed to God Rest Ye Merry People, as the Dean of Llandaff insisted on a few years ago. I'm sure I've mentioned this on my blog before, but when I objected to such silliness, I was interviewed on Radio Five late on Christmas Eve, and introduced as the Dean of Berriew. At the time, I was sitting in my office with my feet up on the desk and a glass of champagne in my hand - and not the first either. John Pocket has referred to me as the Dean ever since.

Anyway 'merry gentlemen' it was last night - and none of the other carols had been interfered with. Only shock for me was during the short sermon where it was revealed that Christ was actually born in June, and it was decided to celebrate the great event soon after the shortest day of the year to give hope to all his people that there were better days to come. Please tell me its not true.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Daily Sport

Had the media on today, asking me what I think of the decision of my political opponent at the next General Election to become the political columnist of the Daily Sport. I did know about this story already, because I'd seen it on Guido Fawkes' blog. (don't read the comments unless you're at least 18 years old.) What on earth could I say. So I said something like;

"Lembit Opik is entirely within his rights to become the political face of the Daily Sport, but its not something that I would ever want to do. Its obvious that we have a very different approach to politics"

Now, I did once make it to the front page of the Daily Sport myself (and every other newspaper in the land). It was one of those really silly stories that seemed totally innocuous to the central character (me) but capable of presentation in a way that made it one of the biggest media stories to emanate from the National Assembly. It involved a Welsh Conservative politician, who was also a sheep farmer, being stopped by the police while driving a Landrover and a trailer load of sheep, and doing so without trousers. It was nothing more than improvisation on my part, but a deadly combination of innuendo ingredients to everyone else. If you google my name, it'll still be one of the first stories to come up. But the point is that I was horrified that this became a story at all, let alone one for the Daily Sport. To be fair, all the media ran it as the 'silly story' it was, so in the event it did no damage to my reputation.

But to actually agree to become the political correspondent of the Daily Sport, in return for payment, is an entirely different matter. I'll be interested in what the media makes of this one. And the voters of Montgomeryshire for that matter.

Heads Down Time.

Another really bad day for democracy in Wales. Details of Assembly Member's allowances have been made public today. Hell of a hoo-hah. And there really shouldn't have been. The actuality is that the National Assembly has a genuinely accountable and transparent system of member expenses - which is not the case in some other Parliaments. What really depresses me is that no AMs were prepared to face the media to justify their claims. I've never agreed with 'under the desk' approach, which seems to have been by cross party agreement today. As always the media asked me to do the justifying - because for the last few years I've always been willing to do it. However, I'd arranged it so that I couldn't do the Richard Evans Phone-in on Radio Wales today. After watching Dragon's Eye last night, it was obvious that my party was going to be in the firing line. It just didn't seem to be my place to justify things, so I arranged lunch, in order that I could genuinely say I was committed elsewhere. Didn't like it though. Never like ducking the flak.

But I did make a few comments for Radio Cymru - in Welsh. And that's because my excuse of being in a restaurant fell over , because Gwenllian Grigg was happy to do the interview over a mobile phone!! The comments I made were based on two personal principles. Firstly, any politician who makes a claim on the taxpayer should be willing to face the media to justify it. I couldn't hide my disappointment with today's response from AMs. And Secondly, I gave my full support to Sir Roger Jones and his committee as they inquire into what should be an appropriate expenses regime. Of course, some people will not accept that politicians should have any expanses, but Sir Roger must recommend some clear guidelines which the majority of people will support.

I was also deeply unimpressed that the information was published on the day after Assembly Members had left Cardiff Bay for the Christmas recess. It just added to the appearance of politicians not being prepared to stand up and be counted for the way they had used taxpayer's money. OK, so this may be off the front pages by next week - but its been a damaging day for Welsh democracy. Final nail in the coffin of a referendum on law making powers for the National Assembly - not logical I know, but factual nonetheless.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Politician of the Year Awards.

I wasn't able to make the black-tie POTY Awards in Cardiff last night. But I had an interest because I was one of the 10 or so judges. Its not proper for me to make any comment whatsoever, but its fair to point out that its probable that each judge disagreed with some of the decisions - and theoretically possible that a judge voted for none of them. So there is no reason for me to be defensive about this list.

The winners were

Politician of the Year.....................Dafydd Elis-Thomas
MP of the Year...............................Paul Murphy
AM of the Year...............................Edwina Hart
MP to watch....................................Jenny Willott
AM to watch....................................Andrew R T Davies
Campaigner of the Year.................Nerys Evans
Local Politician of the Year.............Cllr. John Davies
Lifetime Achievement....................Dafydd Wigley

Personally I'd have liked to have given a Special Award to Rhodri Glyn Thomas as 'Hard done-by Politician of the Year.

Anyway, tell me what you think - and don't just disagree without giving us your preference.

Wishful Thinking.

Bit knackered again tonight, after another five hours on the road today. In Cardiff - this time in the heart of Welsh democracy, where I was chairing a 'Sustainability Forum'. Our aim is to make recommendations to Darren Millar, Conservative 'sustainability' spokesman - with a view to influencing Conservative policy. I'd been hoping that we would all agree about recommendations, but it will probably prove impossible to come up a form of words on onshore wind. Still, I've been pleased about the large measure of agreement.

There were two big stories centred on the National Assembly today. The first involved some poetry reading which we're told took place in the building. I say 'we're told' because the media were banned from the reading. Interesting that this argument has been about freedom of speech!! Patrick Jones poetry in not for me - but I have to congratulate him on his marketing skills. He might write c*** poetry but he did manage to persuade several Assembly Members to indulge in the sort of public badinage that produced headlines Max Clifford would be proud of.

The second story on every one's lips in tomorrow's release of details about Assembly Member's expenses. I do think that to release the figures on the day after AMs have gone home for Xmas will have wound up the media big-time. So I expect some big headlines tomorrow. I do hope that AMs will be prepared to appear on the media to answer any questions that might be asked about what AMs have spent their access to taxpayer's money on. One person at the heart of things told me today that it will be a rumpus 24 hours, and next week's chip paper. If the details had come out on Monday, as expected, and everybody was willing to stand up and justify them, I could agree. But now, I'm really am not so sure about it.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Police Fundraising

I'd been wondering what the Police were going to do to compensate for the loss of income now that speed cameras are being removed in some areas. Well, the Preston Police have come up with a cracking idea. They've started handing out £80 fixed penalty notices for using profane language. Signs and banners are being displayed around the city warning 'No Effin and Jeffin'. I know what Effin means, but I got a clue what 'Jeffin' is. I hesitate to mention this. The last time I sought knowledge of this sort, I remember being very embarrassed when I was told what a 'Milf' was.

This is rather a good ruse by the men in blue. It will raise a lot of money. Just remember the total that Newcastle Manager, Joe Kinnear would have totted up in one minute - £4160-00. I know friends of mine who could rattle up a grand's worth in a single sentence. All the Police would have to do in Powys would be to knock on every one's door and ask for an opinion on the Council's decision to turn street lights off. They would be driving around in Bentleys on the proceeds.

Or the Essex Police could release a sack of rats in the Fire Station at Waltham Abbey. Telegraph tells us today that when a part-time officer opened the building, he ran for it at speed because he saw two mice - and the station was closed down for two hours. I'd bet he let fly with some expletives as he legged it. Just imagine the reaction if the crew found 52 rats nibbling at their lunch boxes. I'm hoping to attend the Welshpool Fire Service's Annual Carol Concert on Saturday night in St Mary's. They'll all be on their best behavior in church.

Cancer Survivorship - Living with and Beyond cancer'

Been chairing a Conference organised by 'Positif Politics' for Macmillan Cancer Support in Nantgarw today. You might ask why they asked me. Well, in part because the advertised 'chair' was stuck in the Far East, and I was called in at the last minute. And the clue to the other reason was written there on the agenda - "The event will be chaired by Glyn Davies (Cancer Survivor). I don't think I've ever seen that written down before. I normally try to pretend I'm no such thing, but today's conference was about Cancer Survivorship' so 'fair enough'.

Now if I'm 'chairing' any sort of meeting, I like to make sure everything is just as I want it. My nonchalance about these things is pretence. So I was not content that the 'speaker's table' was placed directly in front of the screen. It was about 10' by 3', covered in a pristine table cloth, and laden with jugs of water, flowers, Fox's glacier mints, maybe ten glasses, several literature packs and Cath Lindley's handwritten notes. I decided to move it about four feet to one side. Unfortunately, as I moved slowly backwards (to avoid disturbing anything), I didn't notice that only one half of the table was following me. Under the pristine tablecloth, there were actually two tables butted up to each other. And unfortunately there was a jug of water resting smack over the join. When the gap between the tables had reached about twelve inches, the weight of the jug caused the tablecloth to slip inwards from both sides. Everything then seemed to happen very quickly.

As the debris was removed, all bundled up in the now not so pristine tablecloth (including all the broken glass) there was a ten square foot water stain on the carpet. I was so impressed with Daran Hill, who's 'set' it was. He batted not an eyelid - just reminded me that the statue remembering Tommy Cooper is but a mile or two up the road - and got on with rebuilding it. And Cath, who was opening the Conference, retained her usual elegance as she carefully laid out her notes to dry.

I really enjoyed the day. Normally I'm not much of a conference man, but there are well over 100,000 cancer survivors in Wales, suffering a range of post treatment conditions, varying from debilitation to the virtually unaffected (which includes me). How we support all these people is an important issue - and of interest to me. It was quite testing, leading a discussion where most of the audience were more knowledgeable than me. But I learned a lot.

Congratulation Shane

For the first time in my life, I voted for the BBC Wales Sports Personality of the Year. I duly telephoned the advertised number, and cast my vote with the recorded voice of Jason Mohammed. It made no difference of course. It was entirely predictable that Shane Williams would win, and I cannot really argue. He's good. But I voted for Nicole Cooke, because she has been Wales' outstanding performer for each of the last three years. Seems to me that if she ran down Queen Street, sidestepped Daniel Carter, leapfrogged Aneurin Bevin's statue, and then knocked out Joe Calzhage with a right uppercut, she still wouldn't win. Anyway I did my bit. Congratulations Shane all the same.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Cameron sets out his stall.

Blog time is short tonight. I've been doing my Xmas cards - and there's a lot of them. That's a consequence of being involved in multiple organisations. And I'm off early tomorrow to chair a conference on 'Surviving Cancer' in Cardiff - and spend lunchtime at a 'brainstorming' session on mental health and dementia at UWIC. Will probably stay up late reading in preparation. Had a quick look at today's news, and have been deeply impressed by what seems to me to be very important positioning by David Cameron - so felt that I wanted to comment. Its a key moment in UK politics, and may well decide who is the next Prime Minister.

Regular readers will know that I was in a state of shock when the Chancellor announced that next year he is planning to borrow £118 billion pounds, and that on the basis of the UK coming out of recession by July. And he also told us that he intends to borrow huge sums of money beyond the foreseeable future. We have four children, and I worry about what is going to happen to them as these horrendous debts fall to be repaid.

Anyway, its obvious that David Cameron and George Osborne are also worried about our four children. Good. But it was a lot more than a speech on the economy. Its a major plank in the platform on which I will be fighting the next General Election. I will be very comfortable campaigning on sound money. And it makes it easier to develop a genuine desire to see Gordon Brown ousted when I so disagree with the way he is gambling with the future of the economy. Its a good job that I have so much to read tonight. I'm so exercised by the sheer idiocy of the way our Government is printing money like confetti, that I could go on about it for hours.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Guest Review by 'Steffan'

'The Heyday in the Blood' by Geraint Goodwin.

Geraint Goodwin was born in Newtown, Montgomeryshire and made his name as a successful Fleet Street journalist. His ambition,however, was to write creative fiction, and in the 1930s he returned to Powys and produced stories set in that part of Wales. This book, the latest in the excellent 'Library of Wales' series, was first published in 1936, just five years before Goodwin's too early death at the age of thirty eight.

'The Heyday in the Blood' is set in an 'out of the way' community in Montgomeryshire during the 1930s. The local inn, the Red Lion, is the centre of village life and the place where this novel's unruly characters collide.

From its first pages, Goodwin draws one into an almost vanished world, remote but strangely recognisable to anyone familiar with rural Wales. Its passionate cast are poachers, drinkers, fighters, hunters and poets - sometimes all at once. The pub is full of arguments and tall tales and these robust, funny, life-affirming characters are in constant rebellion against authority.

The story centres on the redoubtable Twmi Tudor, the landlord of the pub, his strong willed daughter, Beti, and the two men who pursue her, Evan, the bankrupt miller and tyro poet, and Llew, her bold and sometimes violent cousin. In some delightfully written scenes, among them visits to the nearby markets and fairs, a confrontational foxhunt, and a poaching expedition with its pugilistic aftermath, Beti, Llew and Evan develop their relationships.

While the isolated village seems to offer an unchanging way of life, this is no innocent Eden, and the outside world increasingly impacts on the character's lives. Set against the massive economic and political influences which crashed through Wales in the thirties, neither the rambunctious, instinctively defiant inhabitants of the taproom, nor the young people struggling to make sense of their volatile emotions can remain unaffected by larger forces.

Goodwin was part of that flowering of Welsh writing in the 1930s and his style is recognisably of that time, though this book overflows with humour, unlike the work of one of his major influences, D H Lawrence. By turns comical, lyrical and intense, we may feel nostalgic for the lost world described here, but Goodwin isn't a sentimentalist. He has a sympathy and compassion for his characters - he really seems to like them, and so did I. This is another fine volume from the 'Library of Wales' project, attractively designed, with a useful foreword, and a pleasure to read.

The Book is available from Fuze in Newtown.

What a difference a 'C' makes

Had a campaign meeting this morning. Someone suggested that I make an issue of the poor upkeep of Council direction signs and the tardy way in which graffiti is removed. A good example is the defacing of the sign that leads into Canal Road in Newtown. It seems that someone has painted out the 'C'. It might even have been Lower Canal Road.

National Grid Connection.

Sometimes, Government policy is almost beyond understanding. I thought that when the Assembly Government published its 'planning guidance' on renewable energy (TAN8) a few years back. We now discover that it was even worse than I thought at the time.

TAN 8 created 3 separate Strategic Research Areas (SSAs) in and bordering Montgomeryshire, within the boundaries of which it was envisaged several wind farms would be built. You really would have thought that the Government would have considered how the power created was to be transported to the National Grid - to coincide with an anticipated construction timetable. Well you'd be wrong.

Powys County Council are currently considering nine applications to build wind farms - all at least 50 kilometers away from the National Grid, the nearest point of which is in Shropshire. Only now has the National Grid informed us what they propose to do to access these sites. I'll quote from the newly released document.

'.....National Grid, SP Manweb and the wind farm developers, along with the support of Ofgem and the Welsh Assembly Government are working cooperatively to understand better the grid connections and associated grid infrastructure that will be the case of Mid Wales we will need to invest in new infrastructure to connect to our existing infrastructure.'

In other words, they have to build a 400 kv line (that's the biggest line of all, which hangs on 150' steel pylons) from somewhere in Shropshire to somewhere in West Montgomeryshire. Not many people in East Montgomeryshire have any idea what's going to happen to them.

This is the proposed timetable of this construction.

Before Aug 09 ................... Assess appropriate connection point to the transmission system.

Aug 09 - April 11.................Public Consultation and Environmental Impact Assessment.

Mid 2011..............................Electricity Act (section 37) Application.

Early 2012...........................Application Determination.

May 2012 - Oct 2015............Construction.

October 2015........................Completion.

That's right. Completion of the line to take the power out of Mid Wales to be completed in 7 years time. While nine proposals are already on the table. Now common sense would dictate that these proposals are put on hold until the line is built. But No. Because of the way the Electricity Act is written, Scottish Power are statutorily obliged to build 132 kv lines now to service these sites. You don't need a degree in Electricity Line Construction to see the stupidity of all this. But that's Government for you.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Selina Scott

Probably clumping my feet on politically correct toes here, but I rate Selina Scott as a seriously attractive woman. She was also a very good news presenter, who didn't stoop to as puerile giggly nonsense as is dished up on Breakfast TV today. Ms Scott is 57 years old. Still in the bloom of womanhood in my opinion - but too old according to Channel 5, who reneged on a contract with her to stand in for Natasha Kaplinski, who is going to be otherwise occupied having a baby. It seems that Five preferred the 28 year old Isla Traquair instead. So Selina Scott sued them, and its thought that compensation of £250,000 has been paid. I'm just sorry the case isn't going to an employment tribunal, where Five would be required to answer for its disgraceful age discrimination and prejudice in public.

This is one area of law that I support - and before you cite recently developed personal interest, it always has been. I well recall arguing about a retirement age for councillors - as if youth was in some way a virtue. My neighbour, the late Sydney Pritchard was the best councillor I ever worked with, well into his eighties.

Insurance companies are the worst offenders. I still resent my ejection from the Wales political rugby team. I was the captain until I lost my Assembly seat - and 'guested' in the bloodbath against the Italians afterwards, when the referee was forced to blow the final whistle early to avoid a diplomatic incident. But then the team became affiliated to the Welsh Rugby Union. This resulted in a ban on anyone over the age of 55 playing. It seems that it was a stipulation of some stupid insurance company. I don't think that this discriminatory rule applies to the Westminster team.

Anyway, my regard for Selina Scott has risen even higher than it was.

End of an era.

I'm not a regular churchgoer - but I attended this morning's service at St Mary's in Welshpool. It was both a sad and special day. The service, included the 'laying-up' of the Standard of the Montgomery Branch of the Royal Army Service Corps Association to the Vicar of Welshpool. In other words, after many year's as an independent association, the local branch is merging with the Shrewsbury Branch. At least there's no sillyness about working across Offa's Dyke here. As I become older, those serving in the Armed Forces seem to me to be so young. I think more about the sacrifice that young people have made to protect the freedom that my family enjoys today.

This is what the President actually said during the Laying-up Ceremony;

"I commit this sacred Standard of the Montgomery Branch of the Royal Army Service Corps Association to you as Vicar of Welshpool for safe-keeping in this church for evermore."

During his powerful sermon, the Vicar talked about the meaning of religion. He listed some of the reasons that are given by those who are opposed to the very idea of religion, one being the number of people that have been killed throughout history in it's name. He named Hitler and Stalin. What occurred to me was that Mao had got away with it again. I do not know the accurate figures, and maybe someone will inform us in comments - but the ball park figures in my mind are 1) Mao at 50 million murdered, 2)Stalin at 20 million, and 3) Hitler at 6 million. In my book, that makes Mao Tse Tung (or Zedong if you prefer) the most evil person who ever lived.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Edna's Expenses Gossip

Been trying to contact Edna Mopbucket all week. Ever since the police arrested Damian Green, she been playing hard to get. I wanted a word after hearing that my expenses when I was an Assembly Member are not going to be published on Monday after all. She gasped when I asked. I knew she had some inside info. So I promised to put a 'good word' about her into the ear of Powys Councillor Bob Mills, who she's taken a shine to. My reward was a bit of tittle-tattle that may or may not be true. Trouble with Edna is that you can never be sure that she's not making it up. Anyway, it seems she'd overheard some meeting discussing when the information about Assembly Member's expenses should be made public.

She said she happened to be passing a Committee Room after normal hours last week, when she heard raised voices. Edna can never resist taking a peep at things. Seems she looked through the keyhole, and who should be in the middle of all this furore but the Chair of something called the Assembly Commission - none other than William Graham AM. It seems that this 'Commission' is responsible for the publication of AM's expenses - including mine. Edna swears she heard one panicky raised voice stuttering "It would be bl**dy bonkers to put this stuff out on Monday. We'll be bl**dy crucified all bl**dy week. Shipton and Roderick will be prowling the corridors of the bl***y Senedd all day Tuesday and Wednesday like undertakers in a flu epidemic. Lets publish the end of next week, after the AMs have gone off on their Xmas hols". Edna reckoned she saw the colour draining from William's cheeks as he muttered something like "Constituency weeks please" - but his buttonhole was suddenly started quivering. Someone else then supposedly chipped in with "We'd never get away with it. They'll crucify us - accusing us of trying to find a way of burying bad news. We'll have to do it this week. Can't we just do it after Wednesday, so that most of us can bu**er off home, before the proverbial hits the fan. The heat should be off by next week"

Edna tells me that she then had to run for it. Its seems William's cheeks turned pure white, and his orchid collapsed. He jumped up from his chair saying that he needed a breath of fresh air to recover. Edna reckoned there was one hell of an atmosphere brewing up - so she scarpered. Can't see what the fuss is about myself. Surely no Assembly Member would ever have spent taxpayer's money on anything they would not be entirely happy for their constituents to know about. Anyway, Edna's promised to ring if she hears any more about when all the details that were to be published on Monday are now going to be published. Luckily she's down the Assembly cleaning next week.

Are Assembly Members 'Value for money'?

Sir Roger Jones certainly P***ed in the fat on Dragon's Eye this week, when he said that some members of the National Assembly for Wales do not give value for money - or words to that effect. Sir Roger is currently chairing a committee looking into AM's expenses. Anyway, BBC Wales asked me to 'guest' on the Richard Evans phone-in yesterday. Mai Davies was standing in for Richard. I knew I'd have to be on sharp form because my fellow guest was Mark Wallace of the Taxpayer's Alliance - and not many callers were going to be on my side. I was ready for 45 minutes of abuse. And that's a bit how it was - but all reasonably polite. John informed us that he thought the whole lot "should be flattened". I'll cover a few of the issues raised.

Most callers were highly critical of the 8.3% increase in an AM's basic salary, which applied from May 2007. I didn't agree with them. An AM's salary is based on a percentage of an MP's salary, based on relative responsibility, and independently assessed. From May '07, AM's were given new limited law making powers, which inevitably resulted in an increase - nothing to do with inflation. I did say that, in my opinion, there had been a 'political' case for phasing in the increase, because that is what was happened to some public sector workers at the time. Some AMs, very sensibly did this. I did condemn those 'responsibility' increases which were slipped in under the cover of the 8.3% row, and which had not been independently recommended. This was a genuine pork barrel outrage, and not one caller raised it. I blame the media for this. It was sloppy and lazy to stoke up a conflagration about the wholly proper and logical 8.3% increase, while virtually ignoring the unjustified 'responsibility' payments, simply because they were more difficult to report.

Two callers were outraged by the 'Communications Allowance'. I shared their disgust as far as this legalised abuse is concerned - but pointed out that it only applies to MPs - and my party wants to ban what is, in my opinion, the spending of taxpayer's money for political purposes. Its one of this blogger's hobby horses. Easy one for me.

Several callers didn't agree with what is called the 'second homes' allowance. Fair enough, I said. That's what Sir Roger and his committee is looking at. It may be that in future it will be restricted to those AMs who live a long way from Cardiff - say over an hour. We will see. A few seemed to like the idea of the National Assembly buying apartments and allowing AMs to live in them during their term of election. I really cannot see the logic here. What on earth is the difference between the taxpayer spending a certain sum on providing accommodation directly, or allowing an AM to spend the same amount on somewhere of their own choosing? What's the betting that some AM would be claiming a 'responsibility' allowance for 'accommodation management'. And just imagine the rows about who lives where. The petty arguments about allocating offices now are bad enough. One caller thought AMs should stay in a property that costs £30 per night. If Sir Roger was listening, perhaps that's what he'll recommend.

Most callers, plus Mark Wallace thought the salary should be halved - to approx. £25,000. I should have been pleased with this. Since I would be happy to do the job for that amount, it would be advantageous to pay so little that the job would only appeal to those who had other means, and those starting out in employment. It would remove a lot of the competition. I had the feeling that if current pay was £25,000, callers would have wanted it halved to £12,500!

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